Watching a horse drawn wagon carrying the body of John Lewis cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama one final time is a stunning testament to the power of non-violence in 1965 and 2020.
The body of Congressman John Lewis will lie in state in Montgomery and the U.S.capital as an honored American hero, a brave man, a moral man whose life was committed to “making good trouble” who fought for justice, voting rights, and equality. He was a man who repeatedly responded to hate with the power of non-violence and love, of the soul force of truth unleashed.
An honor guard of military pall bearers carries John Lewis’s casket, and he is saluted by Alabama state police. City of Selma with an African American Mayor Darrio Melton has a day of solemn celebration. Much has changed since 1965.
The brutal and public murder of George Floyd in 2020 unleashed a now global and diverse social movement that Black Lives Matter, that racism and bigotry is an all to prevalent institutional evil that is an enduring stain on the American nation.
And yet in 1965, the President of the United states was Lyndon Johnson, a Texan who astonishingly came to support the Voting Rights Act that John Lewis and so many, others fought and bled for, and would say in a speech to the nation, “We Shall Overcome”, the watchwords of the civil rights movement
In 2020, Donald Trump, a virulent an unrepentant racist, campaigns for reelection as if he was George Wallace, supporting the right to display the Confederate battle flag as “free speech”, defends monuments for Confederate generals and politicians as honored part of our heritage, unleashes camo clad gun toting thugs on demonstrators in the name of “law and order” and photo ops.
His winning strategy is incite violence, systematically suppress the vote, and scare suburban women voters (“housewives”) that fair housing laws will destroy their communities as if it was still 1965.
In 2020 as in 1965, it is disciplined non-violence that is the most powerful weapon against racism and its latest incarnation in Trumpism. Nonviolence makes it completely clear that support for Trump means support for racism, manifest by the ability and willingness to murder African Americans and people of color for any reason or for no reason, in the street, in their homes, for jogging while Black, walking while Black, driving while Black, watching TV while Black, to be choked, shot, to be lynched as testament to racism and White racial supremacy.
Trump’s campaign objective is to provoke violence on the part of demonstrators to validate racist sentiments and inclinations of his supporters and scare Republican women otherwise turned off by his witches brew of misogyny, nativism, and lies.
Non-Violence in Action 2020
Naked Athena, a nude women wearing only a stocking hat and a mask at the Federal Court house demonstrations in Portland doing ballet and yoga in front of Trump’s storm troopers is the perfect singular example of non-violence in action. The cowards in camo did shoot at her legs at first. But she persisted and they stopped shooting, and ten minutes after she arrived the camo boys left as did she.
During the American Peace Test demonstrations at the Nevada nuclear test site in the 1980s, a group of young women, the Naked Truth Affinity Group, climbed naked over the fence surrounding the test site and walked into the desert. The response of the tough guy guards was interesting. They were embarrassed, arrested the women and covered them with blankets.
In Portland in 2020 we see the Wall of Moms, of Vets, of Nurses in Scrubs standing between the camo boys and demonstrators. Thousands of non-violent demonstrators march and demonstrate to support social justice and Black Lives Matter.
But unfortunately, late at night small cohorts of demonstrators, some wearing full battle rattle, want to fight the camo boys, set fires, throw fireworks and would, if they could, break into and vandalize the court house.
It’s impossible to know the provenance of these demonstrators. Disciplined non-violence is clearly not on their agenda. Some may be affiliated with Black Bloc anarchist groups who have a similar goal as Trump to inspire more violence. They are equally, or more likely, to be provocateurs from right wing groups like the 3 percenters, the Bogoloo boys, and other right wing militias who have already killed cops in the wake of demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd, or perhaps undercover cops inspiring or supplying useful idiots they recruit with tools of the violence trade.
The fastest non-violent way to make the camo boys leave Portland would be a nightly large silent vigil alternating with community sing-in and street theater instead of nightly assault on the besieged castle.
John Lewis and the marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge demonstrated the power of nonviolence. The beatings, the dogs, the horses made the moral and political point clear. The racist hand was exposed and discredited. The political forces unleashed by the soul force of nonviolence led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act and many other repudiations of de jure segregation.
The practice of disciplined nonviolent resistance in the face of threat and racism is the clearest and most reliable path to the defeat of Trumpism. Non-violent demonstrators have limited ability to control determined street fighting men and women. But they do have the ability not to provide cover for them and make clear that they are not part of nonviolent resistance demonstrations.
Non-violence provides clarity, truth and moves people to risk their live in the cause of peace and justice. It’s what can make Trumpism recede, like George Wallace, to unhappy memory.
Roy Morrison Builds Solar Farms. He was an organizer for the Clamshell Alliance and the American Peace Test non-violent campaigns.
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