My August 12 op-ed in the Dallas Morning News is copied below. You can see the online comments here. I was also the subject of this amazing letter to the editor. As TCU’s Provost is fond of saying, we are all fighting a war against ignorance.
Grass-roots rumblings go much deeper than Trayvon Martin response
By Max Krochmal
Published: 11 August 2013 10:08 PM
Updated: 11 August 2013 10:13 PM
For the last two years, I have traveled around the South with my TCU students on a civil rights bus tour. In addition to visiting memorials and museums, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to dozens of civil rights activists, the unsung heroes and heroines of the local freedom movements that helped cripple the system of Jim Crow.
But the journey doesn’t always reflect triumph and progress. “The movement isn’t over” is a frequent refrain from the activists. They say that many of the hard-won gains are rapidly being reversed, citing the rise of voter ID bills and other restrictions. And they invariably conclude their remarks by telling the students that it’s their turn to pick up the torch and carry the struggle forward.
Many of my students and others around the country are now answering that call, mobilizing in huge numbers in support of Trayvon Martin, participating in voter registration drives, and, in North Carolina, joining the “Moral Mondays” crusade that is sweeping the state. The killing of Martin has struck a chord in black America, reminding African-Americans of a long history of violence based on racial stereotypes and the ongoing deferral of justice in the country’s police departments and legal system.
The mobilizations around the Martin case represent just the tip of a much larger iceberg. Ordinary people, young and old, are coming together to confront the many problems facing African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, women, sexual minorities, working people, immigrants and the poor. Just as the Arab Spring exploded onto the scene and spread across the Middle East and North Africa, the United States may now be witnessing the florescence of a new wave of democratic social movements.
History suggests that social movements occur when a large number of ordinary people come to believe that they are capable of changing the world around them. Participants must individually achieve a heightened level of political self-respect — they must recognize that they cannot wait for other people to do things for them and, instead, decide that they themselves are the agent of change. The most successful social movements are the ones in which people do this collectively, through a process of trial and error, taking time at each step along the way to analyze, reflect upon, and learn from their actions as well as the larger society’s reactions.
For example, the early leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the key civil rights movement organization on the ground, were but a group of ordinary, mostly first-generation, black college students, who came together on campuses across the South to discuss the indignities of Jim Crow and the need to take action. Each local group launched uncoordinated sit-ins at lunch counters and department stores throughout the region.
What made them the shock troops of a powerful movement was the fact that once they gathered and learned from one another, they organized a new wave of coordinated direct action protests, voter registration drives and educational initiatives aimed at empowering local people and multiplying the movement’s leadership.
Today in North Carolina, leaders of the state NAACP are building upon years of grass-roots coalition-building to launch Moral Mondays, a diverse movement aimed at halting the reversal of many hard-won gains. Their weekly rallies and acts of civil disobedience are drawing attention to the state legislature’s aggressive efforts to restrict the right to vote. They are also fighting against cuts to the state’s renowned public education system, unemployment benefits, and even abortion rights.
The commemoration and re-enactment of the March on Washington later this month will be anything but an exercise in nostalgia. Participants would do well to remember some of the forgotten lessons of the march that took place 50 years ago:
First, the 1963 demonstration was titled the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” a name that indicated that its agenda included not only equal rights but economic justice issues.
Second, protesters might wish to recall the words of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who reminded the marchers that it would be up to them — to ordinary people — to produce the change they wanted to see and that they couldn’t wait on the government to take action for them. Those words, while muttered in the ’60s, couldn’t ring truer today.
Max Krochmal is an assistant professor of history at Texas Christian University and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.