Protesting in Your Dreams

Ben Carson knows exactly what BLM should be doing.

The biggest obstacle a protest movement faces isn’t resistance from people on the other side. Quite the opposite: One purpose of protest actions is to make your opponents come out of the shadows and demonstrate the previously hidden power dynamics that hold the status quo in place.

So when Sheriff Clark deputized all the adult white males of Dallas County and met protest marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, he didn’t break the Civil Rights movement, he made it. He showed the world that the relationship between the races in Alabama was predicated on officially sanctioned white violence.

Clark didn’t know it, but he was following the script Martin Luther King had laid out two years earlier in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

Drama needs a villain, and Clark had unwittingly signed up for the role.

So if people like Sheriff Clark and Bull Connor are not an activist movement’s biggest obstacle, what is? The people who say, “I agree with your goals, but you’re doing it all wrong.” They compare an actual social-action movement, one that is organizing in the real world and doing things, to their own fantasy movement, which they are not lifting a finger to make real. So what their criticism actually promotes is not a competing real-world program of action, but a passivity that says: “Not this. Not here. Not now.”

In MLK’s day, the criticism centered on timing: Wasn’t King pushing for too much too fast, without giving his white moderate allies time to take the smaller, more deliberate actions that seemed reasonable to them? His Birmingham-jail letter answered:

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

This is the proper context for reading Ben Carson’s recent op-ed in USA Today: “#BlackLivesMatter misfire“. Carson’s objection to the BLM protests isn’t time, it’s target. But his message is otherwise very much the same as the pseudo-sympathetic moderates who bedeviled King: Not this.

Carson’s fantasy protest movement (which he is not lifting a finger to make real) would find a better target than police violence against blacks.

The notion that some lives might matter less than others is meant to enrage. That anger is distracting us from what matters most. We’re right to be angry, but we have to stay smart.

Of course, the protesters are right that racial policing issues exist and some rotten policemen took actions that killed innocent people. Those actions were inexcusable and they should be prosecuted to deter such acts in the future.

But unjust treatment from police did not fill our inner cities with people who face growing hopelessness. Young men and women can’t find jobs. Parents don’t have the skills to compete in a modern job market. Far too many families are torn and tattered by self-inflicted wounds. Violence often walks alongside people who have given up hope.

He goes on to list some better targets for protest: school boards that don’t educate black children, entertainment corporations that glamorize black thuggery, city governments that tolerate unsafe black neighborhoods, crack houses in black neighborhoods, and the two major political parties.

And you know something? There’s no point in arguing with him about those targets, because they’d all be good. In the same way that Carson can say “the protesters are right” about racial policing issues, I can likewise support his fantasy protesters.

But you know who is perfectly positioned to start such protests in the real world? Ben Carson. He is a presidential candidate with a considerable following — second to Donald Trump in a lot of recent Republican presidential polls. TV crews and newspaper reporters follow him wherever he goes. They’re just waiting for him to make some actual news.

Imagine if Carson had closed his op-ed by announcing a march on Baltimore’s city hall or a sit-in in front of the Chicago Board of Education. Unlike most BLM leaders, Carson could absolutely guarantee coverage on all major TV networks. Pundits all over the country would talk about his demands and the problems they addressed.

Who knows? If Carson is right in his criticism of BLM, if they have legitimate grievances but are misguided tactically, then his better-targeted protests might change the whole national conversation. He might make BLM irrelevant by drawing bigger crowds, raising more energy, and having a more direct impact.

Or consider one of the other things he says needs to be done:

Finally, we need to go over to the Republican Party. We need to tell them they have ignored us for too long. They need to invite us in and listen to us.

But Ben: You just appeared in a Republican presidential debate that 28 million people watched on TV! The GOP invited you in and they were listening to you. Why didn’t you raise any racial issues then?

Imagine if Carson had used his closing statement to call out the Republican Party for ignoring the black community and minimizing its issues — exactly what he says needs to be done. That clip would have been replayed on every news network in the country. It might even have taken Donald Trump out of the headlines for a day or two.

But he didn’t do that.

Here’s the point Carson’s op-ed glides over: There’s room for more than one protest in the world. Nobody has given BLM the monopoly on expressing black frustration or fighting for social justice, so nobody has to stop BLM before starting a rival movement. Just because one group picks one set of targets doesn’t stop another group from picking different ones.

Anybody who thinks he has a better way to promote change and racial justice is perfectly free to go that way. If you think BLM is doing it wrong, then go out and do it right.

If that’s really what you want to do.

But what if your purpose is to support the status quo, and maybe to gain the gratitude of the Powers That Be by helping derail and delegitimize the only effective action that’s currently happening? Then you should do what Ben Carson is doing: Fantasize about protest movements that could be happening, but aren’t.

Because that’s one thing the Powers That Be can always count on: Fantasy protests never change anything.

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  • Tony  On August 31, 2015 at 10:01 am

    While your points about BLM and Ben Carson are spot, the observation that he should be the one to lead the next protest is absolute suicide in the insane world that is the Republican Party. His goal is to get nominated and then elected. No way that advances this goal. JMHO.

    • Anonymous Poster  On August 31, 2015 at 10:22 am

      The point is not so much that Carson *should* be the one to lead the next protest, but that he *could* if he were invested in making any of his fantasy protests a reality. And he could, were he so inclined. But he won’t.

  • mysanal  On September 5, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    Reblogged this on Mysa.


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