Tag Archives: Free Speech Movement

SYNDICATED COLUMN: To Do Next for the #NeverAgain Movement: Settle on a Clear Demand

Image result for march for our lives Notice the signs: where are the exact demands for Congress?

Eight hundred thousand people participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24th, say organizers with the #NeverAgain movement sparked by the Parkland, Florida school massacre. The turnout was impressive — but will it lead to new gun legislation?

History suggests no. But victory is achievable — if rallies are sharpened in focus.

Enthusiasm is necessary to launch a movement. Careful strategizing is required to sustain and grow it. The Million Moms March, also dedicated to curbing gun violence in 2000 drew a similar-sized crowd. Yet the next two decades saw one mass shooting after another, the NRA gaining rather than losing political influence, and a major reversal for the gun-control movement marked by the failure to renew the ban on assault weapons.

Whether it’s the Million Man March to promote unity and family values among African-American men or the 1981 Solidarity Day march to defend unions from Reagan-era attacks against organizations like the air traffic controllers union, there is a century-old tradition of large groups of Americans gathering in Washington, carrying signs, chanting slogans and being ignored by Congress and the president after they go home. To those shattered dreams you can add 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, another leaderless protest that came together and fizzled.

At almost all these events, speakers proclaimed themselves present at the continuation or initiation of a movement. But sustained movements must be organized. These were, like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, political spasms. Perhaps not theater as farce — but theater at most. At best, some presaged something later, bigger and effective.

Weighing in favor of the #NeverAgain movement’s chances of effecting real change is the role of social media, which can bring large groups of people together quickly. But they also need a simple, coherent, bumper-sticker-ready demand message.

Writing in USA Today, Rick Hampson argues that even the go-to granddaddy of all contemporary marches, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was less effective than advertised: “Even the 1963 civil rights march required so much effort, created so many internal divisions and produced so few immediate results (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed only after and because of President Kennedy’s assassination) that its leaders vowed never to attempt another.”

Hampson has a point. The 10 printed demands for the March on Washington remind us of American society’s failure to address the needs of the poor and oppressed since 1963. They wanted a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which is at least $15 today. Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refused to go over $12 in 2016. Still, they had a clear, coherent set of demands, beginning with: “Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.” And the Civil Rights Act did get passed.

The March 24th March for Our Lives opposed gun violence. The problem is, it failed to articulate a precise demand or set of demands.

“School safety is not a political issue,” read the Mission Statement. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”

Sorry, but those are weasel words.

“Address”?

How?

Should we ban large-capacity magazines?

Would restoring the assault-weapons ban be enough?

Should we, as retired Justice John Paul Stevens suggested recently, repeal the Second Amendment entirely and ban all guns?

Asking Congress to simply “address” an issue is an invitation for more endless debate leading nowhere, or to a compromise so watered down that it undermines the cause. (The ACA is an example of the latter.) A movement must settle on an area of clear focus. Unlike Occupy, which was split between reformists and revolutionaries and talked about everything from restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to eliminating homelessness, #NeverAgain has that part down pat.

An effective movement also has to settle on the solution to a problem. Proposing a path forward does not guarantee success: demonstrators had a clear, straightforward demand in 2002-03: do not invade Iraq. The Bush Administration ignored them. On the other hand, it’s now painfully clear which side was right. That will add to the credibility of antiwar marchers the next time a president tries to start a war of choice.

Settling on a clear solution, as opposed to asking the political class to “address” the issue, entails risk. For #NeverAgain, advocating for a comprehensive gun ban will push away allies who prefer a compromise approach. On the other hand, a more moderate approach will generate less excitement among those in favor of a radical solution (and moderation generally elicits less enthusiasm). But to take a page from gun-toting military folks, it’s better to go into battle with half an army than a whole one riddled with confusion and no idea why they’re fighting.

(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Prequel to a Beginning

Why Occupy Wall Street Still Matters

      It was the middle of September. An ad hoc coalition of political groups, mostly left of center but not all, whose members mostly were young but not all, came together to express their opinions outside the officially approved two-party paradigm.

United by their anger and energy, these people held general assemblies (they called them “sit-ins.”) They marched. Throughout that fall and into part of the following year, they caught the attention of the news media, inspiring activists around the country. In the end, the powers that be did what power powers that be usually do: they sent in the cops. Beaten and swept away in mass arrests, the young activists drifted away. Voters, convinced by the system’s propaganda that the movement threatened law and order, turned to the right.

One year later, it was clear to most that the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley had failed.

Students had demanded that school administrators allow political organizations, including civil rights groups, to table and solicit contributions on campus. (In 1964 only the campus Democratic and Republican clubs were allowed to do so.) There was a concession: the acting chancellor grudgingly opened the steps of a single building for open discussion and tables, but only during certain hours. By the fall of 1966, however, UC had a new right-wing president and California was led by a new right-wing governor, Ronald Reagan, who had promised to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.”

Now we understand that the FSM was a prequel to a beginning. The FSM morphed into a campus movement that inspired widespread social unrest of the 1960s that centered on opposition to the Vietnam War. Everything that followed–feminists burning bras, gays rioting after the bust at the Stonewall Inn, America’s withdrawal from Vietnam–had its roots in that “failed” movement.

Keep the “failed” Free Speech Movement in mind as you read and watch this week’s coverage of the anniversary of Occupy. One year after activists set up the first Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York and Washington, D.C., the Occupy movement is described as in “disarray.” Indeed, it’s hard to remember how big OWS was. Were there really more than a thousand Occupations? Did 59% of the American public support OWS when it was barely a month old? What happened?

“I think they’re idiots. They have no agenda,” Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, tells The Los Angeles Times. “They have yet to come out with a policy statement.”

“The movement [grew] too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world,” argues the AP.

I was at Freedom Plaza in D.C. and Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I’m a member of my local Occupy chapter on Long Island, Occupy the East End. (Yes, we’re still around.) I agree with Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who was protesting in front of a Bank of America branch. She told a reporter that OWS is “about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change.”

Coming up with a list of demands isn’t the point. Thinking outside the D vs. R box is. Now people know that electoral politics is theater. Real politics is in the streets. For the first time since the Sixties, we know that.

The flaw in Occupy, the seed of its future destruction, was its basic original premise: occupying public space nonviolently.

Occupying nonviolently is an oxymoron. If you decide to be nonviolent, you leave peacefully when the police show up to evict you. Which is what happened last winter to the OWS encampments.  If you are determined to occupy–and remain in–public space, you must resort to violence in order to defend yourselves from police violence.

OWS ought to have decided whether it wanted to be nonviolent or whether it wanted to occupy public space. If it chose nonviolence, it could have engaged in acts of resistance–flash mobs, demonstrations, strikes–that did not require setting up and defending encampments.

Also, a political movement is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. OWS was a movement outside of the duopoly, yet many “Occupiers” worked with, and got co-opted by, Democratic Party front groups like MoveOn.org who stole OWS’ “We are the 99%” slogan.Though the physical presence of OWS is a mere shadow of its presence a year ago, the Occupy idea remains colossally important–largely because the two major parties still refuse to engage the biggest problem we face: America’s growing poverty. “I don’t think Occupy itself has an enormous future,” Dr. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, told the Associated Press. “I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future.”

Like the Free Speech movement nearly a half century ago, Occupy is the prequel to the beginning.

Of course, change doesn’t always mean progress and inspiration isn’t always positive. “Reagan’s political career owed a lot to the [FSM] people who used the [UC] campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him,” says Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor at Berkeley from 1965 to 1969.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL