Greetings! I hope everyone has had a good holiday weekend.
Recently, we have had events showing how far we have to go in this country towards truly fulfilling democracy for everyone in this country, even after nearly 240 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One is the shooting in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June, resulting in the deaths of nine parishioners, including the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and State Senator; also the Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Reverend Sharonda Singleton, and the Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. May their memories be a blessing.
The shooter was Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old consumer of racist internet propaganda. I got the sense his acts were racially motivated when we saw the pictures of him in his jacket with the flags of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and of South Africa in the apartheid era. His website sowed him burning the US flag and holding the Confederate “battle flag”, which was really the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia in the Civil War, commanded by General Robert E. Lee.
As he was shooting, Roof was alleged to yell, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country! You’ll have to go!” In his website which he called “The Last Rhodesian” a hat tip to another racist regime), Roof wrote of how we received information about racial issues from the Council of Conservative Citizens, which comes from the White Citizens Councils of the ‘sixties-the “uptown Klan,” the respectable business and professional people who used economic and political pressure to keep whites from deviating against the old “Jim Crow” segregation order.
Later in the web site, Roof talks about how he considers African Americans “stupid and violent,” but “At the same time they have the capacity to be very slick.” There is the tendency to accuse people of anything, even if they contradict each other. Roof’s manifesto adds that slavery wasn’t all that prevenient or widespread in the Ante-bellum South, that slaves were not abused by their owners, and that racial segregation was meant to protect Whites from Blacks.
Ever since the shooting, calls have revived to remove the Confederate rag from public monuments and confine it to museums. It would be a great step, but hopefully one step towards fighting against what Dylann Roof, and that flag-rag were about-racism, the subjugation of one race by another, and with it segregation into inferior housing, education, services, and treatment as a human being, to which African Americans were expected to accept, on pain of death, officially by the police, unofficially by the friendly neighborhood Klan (the same thing but at different times).
The Confederate “battle flag” was restored in the 20th Century in resistance to the rise of the Civil Rights movement, gaining momentum in 1948 from Strom Thurmond’s “Dixiecrat” presidential campaign (which did not stop Thurmond from having sex with a Black housemaid and having a child from that liaison). After that campaign, and all through the Civil Rights struggle, the “Confederate battle flag” was waved in Klan rallies and put on the official flags of some of the Confederate states.
As I pointed out, the flag in question was not THE Confederate flag; the original flag of the Confederate States of America, the “Stars and Bars,” was of one big red stripe, then a big white stripe, then a big red stripe, and in the upper left corner was a blue field with a circle of stars representing the Confederate States. The next design of the official Confederate flag, “the stainless banner,” was the battle flag in the upper left corner and a white field. The designer, Georgia newspaper editor William T. Thompson, said of the flag, “As a people we are fighting maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” (This is more proof that, in spite of neo-Confederate apologists, the southern cause in the Civil War was about maintaining the slave system.) But this flag, critics said, would be considered a flag of truce or surrender. Finally, they designed the “Blood-Stained banner,” maintaining Thompson’s design but putting a red stripe at the far-right end.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of the monumental events in LGBT rights history, now known as “Remembrance Day;” in 1965, forty activists of the “homophile” movement (the origins of the current Gay rights movement) marched in a circle in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, holding signs saying mind reformist things as “Homosexuals should be judged as individuals;” “Homosexuals are tax-paying citizens,” like that. This mild protest by the pioneering Gay activists-the men in nice suits and ties, the women in nice dresses, like they were going to the office- was also fraught with danger for them; to be identified as “homosexual” ran a person the risk of job loss, social ostracism, and violence, even death.
It’s good that this piece of Gay Rights History is known and recognized for its importance; it has not gotten the attention of the Stonewall riots, when, in June 1969, patrons of a crummy bar owned by a mob associate-mainly young street hustlers and drag queens- fought against riot police for three days, thus making public the Gay rights movement we know today.
Remember the historical context: In 1965, the earlier activists hoped for reform and trying to reason with the government and other institutions to accept same-sex-loving people as fellow citizens, and this went on during the Civil Rights movement for African Americans, which emphasized non-violent resistance to Jim-Crow laws. (But, it was resistance nonetheless, and it still terrified J. Edgar Hoover and the other enforcers of the status quo at that time.)
In 1969, however, the nation was rocked by the murders of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, three men symbolizing the idealism of that time; the Viet Nam war raged overseas, with Americans divided over the rightness of the war, and campuses turned into war zones; and Feminism was in its rebirth as a movement, with its raising questions about what is a “woman” and what is a “man.”
The non-violent, let’s-sit-down-and-talk-shall-we approach of reasoning with the oppressor was indeed brave and dangerous for the beginning Gay activists; but the Stonewall riots, made up of young men who had nothing to lose but their chains, and who were sick of police abuse and harassment, fought back violently and now the LGBT movement is in full bloom, winning such things that the earlier activists could never have imagined, such as marriage equality, openly serving in the military, and cultural acceptance-who doesn’t know anyone who is gay?
This leads to one more question-When does non-violent protest stop being effective, and when do you have to use force to defend yourself? I don’t adhere to the “turn the other cheek” talk used to tell people to put up with being picked on and being abused, for the sake of the dominant power’s peace and quiet. Telling someone to not resist being physically or otherwise attacked, I have come to conclude, is foolish and cruel.
I have a lot of good friends who identify as Christian, and who engage in non-violent Civil Disobedience work and other activities in order to combat militarism and state and other forms of oppression. I commend them. And I myself am not crazy about a lot of violent upheavals; but I WILL NOT take anyone putting their hands on me as I work to attain my rights. It’s not a cut-and dry situation. But it’s something to think about, after we finish our holiday partying.