OAMU – A FIELD MANUAL ON ORGANIZING A MASS UPRISING V
[This concludes Dale Woolridge’s series that offers historical lessons and guidance on organizing a movement against government tyranny. We need to take these lessons to heart as darkness descends upon our country and we learn to light the torch of freedom dispelling it. Thanks, Dale!]
Chapter Five: Changing Laws
“Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.” Lyndon Baines Johnson, when Senate Majority Leader
Robert F. Kennedy became Attorney General on January 21, 1961, just one day after the inauguration of his older brother, John F. Kennedy, as President of the United States. Robert once made a remarkable statement about his state of mind at the time: “I did not lay awake at night worrying about the problems of Negroes.”
Arguably, the problems of black people constituted the most serious defect of the American republic. In Mississippi in 1960, for example, fewer than 2% of the eligible black citizens were registered to vote, the result of organized terrorism that enforced white supremacy in the political system, terrorism with the connivance and complicity of every level of government in the Democrat Jim Crow South.
There were federal laws predating the Kennedy brothers’ assumption of power that were intended to protect people who were trying to register to vote, as well as people helping the people trying to register. The laws were to be enforced by the Attorney General of the United States.
That was Robert F. Kennedy, who did not lay awake at night worrying about the problems of black people. The Kennedys, as time went on, didn’t seem to be vigorously enforcing those laws. But no one in the political class seemed worried about the problems of black people.
The previous fall featured four televised debates between John F. Kennedy and his Republican opponent, Richard M. Nixon. Thanks to the internet we can all read the transcripts of those debates. Civil rights were barely touched in the debates. The candidates were asked a couple of general questions in the second debate and both candidates responded with general answers that seemed spiritless and unpromising.
By contrast, all four debates featured animated, passionate discussions of Quemoy and Matsu, two island groups in the Taiwan Strait between mainland China and Taiwan.
Back in 1958 the two Chinese governments started quarreling over what to do with them. In the debates the two presidential candidates argued about what the U.S. should do. But the Presidential candidates in 1960 didn’t spend much time on the problems of black people. There was nothing new in that.
As Frances Fox Piven reminded readers in her recommended book, Challenging Authority, before the Civil War Congress had a gag rule on itself to prevent any debate on slavery.
The thought of having a major public debate on that particular topic was just as horrifying to the politicians of that time as a big debate on government debt would be today. Do they have a gag rule on all controversial topics?
In the U.S., politicians depend on a coalition of voters that keeps them in power. Sometimes a politician will be pestered by someone or by a group wanting action on some issue and they won’t go away. Most politicians are experts on making excuses or taking symbolic or palliative actions that satisfy the pests for a while. Another tactic is to put pests on a study panel. They can keep stringing someonealong for years.
Jo Ann Robinson was an old-timer with a history of activism going back to the 1940s. As a leader in the Women’s Political Council, an organization of professional women in Montgomery, Alabama, she met regularly with the specific politicians who were responsible for discriminative busing policies. Then one Thursday evening, she learned that Rosa Parks had been arrested after she refused to move to the back of a bus.
Without any permission except for the consent of Parks, Robinson stayed up that night and made thousands of copies of a flyer, to be distributed the following morning, calling for a bus boycott the following Monday. The rest was history, as they say, but exactly the kind of history the political elite fears most.
The Five D’s Model
The process of forcing changes to laws can be viewed as a cycle broken down into five components, each one feeding the next. Rebellion-minded people who like to study and think can specialize in any component without running out of food for thought.
Again, Piven’s book, Challenging Authority, is recommended as a wealth of facts and ideas about this subject and another view of the process of change.
“Our power is in our ability to make things unworkable.” Bayard Rustin
“Get in the way.” John Lewis
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus –and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it –that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented from working at all!” Mario Savio
Living things create and depend upon certain structures and orderly processes that maintain their very existence. Push a stick into an anthill or hornets nest and watch the frenzy of activity to find and destroy the cause of the disruption and to build again.
In the grassroots, according to Piven, it is our ability to disrupt that provides us the political power to force societal change despite a recalcitrant government.
For ordinary people, power comes from industrial workers going out on strikes; students walking out of the classrooms; customers boycotting stores, perhaps picketing outside. Tactics for disruption are abundant.
Check out Gene Sharp’s trilogy, Politics of Nonviolent Action, the second volume of which has descriptions of almost 200 tactics. There is also the website, https://www.beautifultrouble.org/, which markets various products for activists.
Disruptive actions, even psychological disruptions, can have massive reverberations throughout a society and throughout history, even if the actions themselves seem trivial. Here is a story that illustrates the point.
During the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, students in several school districts came to school wearing SNCC pins, which showed a handshake with a white hand and a black hand. The black students liked the pins, but the white administrators did not. Consequently, wearing the pins was like showing a crucifix to a vampire.
The administrators tried to stop the students from wearing the pins but the harder they tried the more students came to school wearing the pins. The struggle escalated as parents and other adults organized to support the students. Hundreds of students were suspended for participating in protests and boycotts. SNCC had developed their own school system by this point, and many of the suspended students chose to enroll in a SNCC “freedom school.”
The adult support organization decided to sue, leading to court decisions supporting the students’ First Amendment free speech rights. The victory in court did not end the adult support organization.
Jerry Blackwell was one of the suspended students and his Mom was Unita Blackwell, a SNCC field secretary who became a leader in the support group. The group reworked their mission and spent many years struggling to end school segregation and achieve better schools. In 1976 Unita Blackwell became the first African-American woman mayor in Mississippi.
Drama, (or Disorder)
“The real action is in the enemy’s reaction.” Saul Alinsky
A well-done disruptive tactic polarizes people and makes them angry. If the disrupters have done their job well, the rebels will probably see their oppressors behave in a way that is suboptimal.
In some cases, the oppressors respond with excess force, as though to say, “How dare you defy me? I will crush you like an insect.” The phenomenon has been called “political jiu-jitsu” because it’s often the oppressor who metaphorically hits the ground flat, propelled by their own force.
Most people just don’t like bullies. A good resource on political jiu-jitsu is the Foreign Policy article, “The Secret of Political Jiu-Jitsu,” by Srdja Popovic and Mladen Joksic. Popovic was one of the eleven founders of Otpor, the Serbian anti-Milosevic group.
Another form that disorder might take is a confused fire drill sort of effect in which people, not knowing what to do, act in ways that seem odd or even comical.
Consider again the iconic photograph of the 1963 Woolworth lunch counter sit-in in Jackson, Mississippi, where activists had condiments poured onto their heads. During some demonstrations in Jackson, police confiscated the signs and American flags of protesters. This was not a smart way to try to win the hearts and minds of the American people.
There is no quick and easy theory that can always tell you who is benefitting and who is being hurt by a disruptive event and the reaction to it. Social psychology is full of examples where a generalization seems true but turns out to be not necessarily so.
For one example, it might seem that a person of good moral character would be more believable than an immoral person, as Aristotle claimed, but experiments suggest that a gangster would be more effective than other people in arguing for harsh punishment for criminals. Common sense and mature judgment are perhaps the best guides.
Remember that you are feeding the next component of the Five D’s Model, which is Debate. Keep calm, watch carefully, and think about how you can use what happens. Capture as much of the madness as possible in photographs and videos.
It is probably best to try to make a better impression than your adversaries. Look like an honest, hardworking person who only wants what’s best for the country.
As your adversaries rush around spouting drivel, as though their heads had turned to mush, be the voice of reason. Praise peace. Condemn violence. It’ll probably work. History abounds with examples of people behaving badly after a disruptive event.
Look for humor from God. The 1968 Democrat Convention in Chicago, which was plagued by protests by students and other young people, was an example of a mad hullabaloo, with journalists receiving beatings inside the convention hall, security staff carrying delegates bodily out of the building, and a “police riot” outside.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley gave us this gem: “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”
The value of drama and disorder in the Five D’s model is that if all goes well, events will redound to your advantage in what Habermas called the public sphere, which is the whole space in which people tweet and talk, complain and pontificate about public issues.
If you’re serious about changing society, you need to dominate as much of the public sphere as possible. You need to make your case there, as close to the center as possible. You want everyone saying good things about your political goals. You want everyone thinking that if politicians don’t do the right thing immediately they should be voted out of office.
You need to be relentless because of the shelf life problem. Fortunately for politicians, most of the controversies being fought in the public sphere have a very short shelf life. Something will happen to make an issue temporarily salient, both sides will present their talking points, and the debate will fade away, relieving the pressure on the politicians.
Much of the rebel success in the civil rights movement can be attributed to the fact that for a long period of time the public sphere was saturated with favorable information about the black cause.
Moreover, a point made by Piven in Challenging Authority, the coverage of the civil rights struggle managed to agitate a large proportion of the American public by continually thrusting entirely new issues into the center of the public sphere. For examples:
- Two black students were accepted into the University of Alabama but the segregationist Governor George Wallace symbolically stood in the doorway to block the students. Some Americans learned for the first time that the university had been colluding with the police to use intimidation tactics to keep blacks out.
- Dramatic activism at Cambridge, Maryland, revealed for the first time to many Americans that black people were not accepted as patients in the hospital. They had to go to Baltimore, a two hour drive, to find a hospital that would accept black patients.
- Police in southern states would stop interstate buses to enforce archaic customs that had been declared unconstitutional, such as the rule that no black person could sit in the same row as a white person. This was news to many Americans. There was something to agitate nearly everyone and a fresh supply of outrage came continually, solving the shelf life problem.
A final suggestion is to develop certain practices that can be used over and over to help win the debate in the public sphere. For examples:
- Ambush. Bills must be considered by committees before going to the full legislature for a vote. Each committee has only a few members, relative to the full legislature. In each committee, some members would be solidly for the bill and some members would be against it, so the few remaining in-between members are the only ones the rebels need to influence.
- Effective use of telephone calls. The phone systems in many legislatures are automated, so that (for example) your first call on a certain issue is routed to an intern, the second call on the same issue is routed to a staffer, and so on, until eventually your call is routed to the legislator. You can learn the rules and use them to increase your organization’s influence on legislators
At some point, probably around mid-1963, President Kennedy started receiving some very bad news. He was losing support from both supporters of the black cause and from southern whites. Something had to be done.
On June 11, 1963, Kennedy gave a speech on radio and television and proposed the legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But he continued to engage in actions that were understood by many as attempts to stop the flow of embarrassing headlines and retain as many southern white votes as possible.
Lyndon Baines Johnson inherited this political environment. Perhaps many Americans had noticed something by this time. Alabama Governor George Wallace, who acclaimed, “Segregation today. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever” in his inaugural speech, was a Democrat. Bull Connor was a Democrat in fact,a member of the Democrat National Committee.
Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill was being filibustered in the Senate by 18 southern Democrat Senators and only one Republican Senator. Among those Democrats was Harry Byrd, who had been a leader in his local Ku Klux Klan.
Malcolm X on April 12, 1964 gave a speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in Detroit. Toward the end of the speech he began ranting against black people who supported the Democrat Party. In a memorable sentence he told the crowd that if you are still a Democrat you are a chump and a traitor to your race.
At this point the crowd went wild with enthusiastic approval. It is in such times that politicians, seeing their support walk away, finally propose reforms.
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last.” Martin Luther King
The federal government virtually killed Jim Crow by enacting the Civil Rights Act 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, followed by another civil rights act in 1968. The civil rights movement was one of several hundred mass uprisings that occurred in the world since the Second World War.
According to Erica Chenoweth, a scholar of “civil resistance movements” at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the chances of success for a nonviolent movement are about fifty-fifty.
Violent uprisings are only half as likely to succeed, probably because it’s harder to recruit people into a violent organization. With odds like this you’d think the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee would make every effort to not only stay together, but expand into a permanent, world-wide body. After all, their movement was built at great cost in time and lives.
But they didn’t.
We the people will have to decide whether to do it again, and SNCC has given us the knowledge of how to do it. In the words of Wesley Hogan, in her book, Many Minds, One Heart: SNCC’s Dream for a New America, “we have a truly powerful blueprint lingering in front of our eyes.”
We need a pro-freedom, pro-Constitution, pro-America conservative equivalent of SNCC to rid us of Leftist Hate-America tyranny. The blueprint is there. Time is start building.
Dale Woolridge has been a TTPer since 2004. He holds a scientifically-oriented Ph.D. in social psychology and has been a government manager and conservative political activist.