Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The March on Washington

Today it's fifty years since the "March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom," known best, of course, for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

I'll admit I'm woefully understudied in the civil rights movement, particularly for someone who studies civil resistance.  I have this book on my shelf waiting to be read.  And all this month, of course, there's been brilliant coverage (See here and here for example) while I have been busy trying to put together the bibliography for my thesis (and discovering some of nastier corners of doing logistic regression with small data sets).  But I do have some thoughts about the civil rights movement generally  

The civil rights movement changed the facts on the ground.  MLK, James Lawson, and other leaders wielded nonviolent weapons to radically change the conversation from a political one that could be dismissed or outmaneuvered to a central inescapable cultural theme.  

The movement also had a powerful strategic core.  They worked progressively from small, achievable victories to build momentum, participation, and public profile.  Rhetorical goals of freedom and equality drove people forward, but desegregation in one city after another built strength for the movement to keep going.

They also used what nonviolent action scholar Gene Sharp calls "political jiu jitsu," the tactic of manipulating your opponent's very violence to undermine his power.  Martin Luther King Jr's oratory inspired, but the images of defenseless black marchers being attacked by police with dogs and fire hoses just a few months before were critical in making segregationists the villains in popular imagination and motivating public opinion against them.

That's all, just some minor reflections.  Now watch this.

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