“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(June 30, 2016) TriceEdney – By 1960, the Civil Rights Movement had gained significant momentum. It seemed as though most of “Thinking America” recognized that the long-held “social contract” that relegated African American citizens to subordinate citizenship was doomed to die an ignominious death. Those of us on the ‘right side’ of history knew that the death of Jim Crow was inevitable.
Although slow and open to criticism, nonviolence, as a tactic of social change, proved effective. One of the most effective of nonviolent tactics was the “Sit-In.” Passive activists who physically sat down and confronted oppressive conditions in a thoughtful and peaceful manner were, most often, met with vile, violent, and reprehensible racist behavior. If a physical attack occurred, activists would fall to the floor and curl-up in a fetal position. Despite this treatment, activists sat and peacefully suffered through the attacks.
With the modernization of the media, the entirety of America and the world were able to witness this violence on the “Evening News.” These images were antithetical to the character of the US that was projected abroad and, moreover, brought shame to the majority of Americans who had chosen a position of silence or inaction on the matter of Civil Rights. ‘Moral authority’ accrued to the activists.
For 26 hours last week, we once again saw the tactic of the Sit-In used. This time it was used on the floor of the US House of Representatives. The cause this time – bringing attention to the question of voting on legislation designed to reduce gun violence. Its leader was Congressman John Lewis, a veteran of The Movement.
In simple terms, in the wake of the Orlando, FL massacre, House Democrats wanted action on an up or down vote on a measure that would restrict individuals on the Federal “No-Fly” list from being able to purchase firearms. Incredibly, earlier in the week, Republicans in the Senate defeated a similar measure which left advocates for gun laws reform stupefied. Senate rejection of this measure caused a furor and the renewed call for action in “The People’s House.”
Reminiscent of the 1960’s, the immediate response from those at cross-purposes with those sitting on the House floor was condemnation of the action. Speaker Paul Ryan vigorously rejected the actions of the Democrats, declared it to be a political stunt, adjourned the session, and ordered television feeds from the House to shut down. Ryan essentially pulled the plug on any reasonable discourse on a problem of extreme magnitude to the nation.
Witnessing Ryan’s response, I reflected and compared his response to those of “Bull” Connor and his ilk, who, rather than using reason, would crush any attention given to the matter. Technology prevailed and a video feed was established for the modern-day activists.
The issue of gun control is one of the most polarizing in this nation and engages all manner of political, corporate, and organizational interests. History shows there are no simple answers to the myriad of questions that arise from this issue. Whatever position is taken on this matter, it can’t be addressed without the commencement of dialogue purposed with a genuine interest in correcting current ills for the benefit of the entire nation.
For 26 hours, Congressman John Lewis led a concerted effort of Democratic legislators in an historic sit-in designed to force action by highlighting the lack of action on a life or death issue. He’s quoted as saying, “The time for silence is over.” As in agreement from our past, Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at: 202-678-6788; or at www.nationalcongressbw.org