Contributor, Jude Rouslin
The phrase , The Movement , encompasses a period during the 1950's to the mid 1970's . It was a time of major social reforms when news programs night after night broadcast to the world the social injustices that many had endured for decades which had fallen under the radar of many for so long. It was a wake up call and America responded. Segregation and voters rights were the issues of the day.
History in the making could be seen from afar at 6:00 on everyone's television sets. However , I know too that many viewers were not in total agreement of what would become tomorrows positive history. Reactions to what they were viewing varied, depending upon what was etched into their minds and class structure. Grainy black and white footage of other people's lives of struggle flashed across the screens to a country that could not relate , nor did they care to try to relate. Televisions, mere safe realities of other's worlds and participation in social justice was not mandatory. Only those that truly could dream joined and there were many.
Yet, just as television had made it possible to document the injustices, and the birth of a social movement, it also was the venue by which many were awakened to the injustices of others. Realities that were not part of the suburban middle class were suddenly being discussed in living rooms across America. The Social Movement was widening and would include those from diverse social economic, educational, and political backgrounds. It steamrolled over the years into a cohesiveness that has yet to be duplicated since. Organizers from varied backgrounds went into neighborhoods and grassroots efforts began to swell.
Problems and issues of residents were identified. It was the organizers job to listen to what the people wanted and assist them into making it a reality, to achieve their goals. Not the organizers goals, or what the organizer felt ought to be the goal. Numbers increased which reflected the enormity of Grass Roots effort across America. People were finally being listened to and organizers simply were the vehicle for area voices. Voices that had been ignored for too long. With only the use of phones, envelopes, stamps copying machines , small news papers and word of mouth, an entire Country of individuals left their cozy status quo and began marching along side those that had been dehumanized, demoralized, beaten, and enslaved for decades.
Sit Ins, Marches, Walks, Boycotts, grew in numbers and change was eventually a reality. The Movement, yes was a mass rising of a collective conscious that could not be stopped. It could not be stopped in Selma, Alabama, the Supreme Courts or the mall in Washington, DC. The Civil Rights Movement had accomplished great legal , social , employment, educational , housing , finance , and election reforms; however, not without its price.
- The shooting death of Medgar Evers in Mississippi
- Greensboro 4
- Little Rock Nine
- Freedom Riders attacked
- Birmingham Alabama Bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
- 3 Civil Rights Activist, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner slain by the KKK
- Malcom X Murdered
- 50 demonstrators beaten by police on Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama
- Dr. Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis Tn, April 4, 1968
But it did not stop the Movement. It continued and grew according to the issues of our times, and morphed to include Vietnam Anti-War Movement. Today, social movements which have the latest communications technologies at their disposal, are certainly not lacking issues, both foreign and domestic. Still no one has achieved anywhere near that of the earlier movement accomplishments during the 50's to mid 70's. However, group meetings, demonstrations and petitions are all too common which we receive in our emails daily. We sign and sign some more. Actions are planned and Street Theater Arts are everywhere. Mock prisons are set up to provide visuals of the abuse of detainees.
Millionaires for Bush, Rev. Billy, Code Pink, moveon.org, all have their banners and signs on sticks, painted faces and drum corps. Yes, we do have social reform movements today. However, the actions have yet to provide substantial change. We're still in Iraq and are in the spin stage of invading Iran. Our civil liberties have been shredded and reduced to pre 1950's level and yet we continue on in our performances as organizations ricochet off each other sounding the same rhetoric. Still nothing has changed. If anything, it has gone backwards in terms of achievements.
We also lack today the tools, legal resources that we had in the 50's -70's due to changes in federal laws regarding their own transparency and accountability. Today's movement, where directors are paid as consultants, and think tanks explain to groups what they need to do; where issues are good to go and there are detailed plans for achieving those goals. It appears that the anti-war movement today has also created a new industry, whereby a group's task is governed by those at the top of the chain, a paying job usually.
It's agony to attend social reform meetings these days, as not one has provided a plan. Not a set of goals, nor have they made the changes to our failing system regarding the invasion in Iraq, domestic policies, as well as foreign policies. We seem to be stuck in the, "Can you attend... sign, donate cash," phase while the beat of the war drums continue on and the death toll gets higher on all sides.
Nothing has changed in Washington as a result of any grass root effort. However, slogans are memorized, shouted, and then it's over and the next day's news for each group, sends out a tally to it's mailing list that it was a successful action. They simply report the number of people who attended. No mention of any changes reached; no follow up.
Speakers of the Civil Rights Movement did not blow through a bull horn shouting stats. They did not feel that a thousand signatures was the end game nor was it the goal to amass a certain number of attendees or donations as if fund-raising was an end. They somehow forget to demand results for their investment. I attended a town hall meeting, which was a national action. There were 3 to 4 groups that were represented. However, only one was involved in the speaking process. There were, of course, banners and signs leading to the event, hundreds of them. Stating, "Get out of Iraq" and "Impeach Bush and Cheney". However, NO mention of those goals were spoken from the podium. When attendee's addressed other types of actions that may help to meet goals, the response was, "I don't want to loose my job."
So an industry has been created and still nothing is achieved. They had no plans for getting out of Iraq. They had no plans to get impeachment underway. They had nothing but stats to throw at the audience, all of which we have heard over and over again. Still no changes.
What are these movements doing? Nothing in terms of achievement and they pale in comparison to those that helped make historical changes in the Civil Right Movement. We have failed as a movement. We have failed as motivating speakers. We have failed in terms of making a difference. I'm saddened to think that so many have no idea of what it means to organize a grass roots actions. The goal is change, period. I have yet to see any changes be born out of todays activism.
Be it in New Orleans, Out of Iraq, or Impeachment. A movement is not a vehicle for sound bytes. Yet, I feel that is all it has been reduced to. Slogans Banners and signing on line actions. As well as the over used, "Call your Representative".
I think it is quite clear where our elected officials stand. It's time to stop the pseudo activism and learn to actually make a difference. Otherwise, it's all for naught. When will today's movement ditch the hype and get back down to true organizing, with results. Where are the creative minds? Where are the intelligent speakers,? We cannot continue to do more of the same. It does not work. Every single issue that we've addressed, has continued, despite our actions. Isn't it about time we faced that fact? Isn't it about time we learned how to move forward and actually take the risks to make real changes that we can all be proud to be a part of?
Otherwise, we are just blowing smoke up ego's and those that get paid to do consulting work. As the rest of us are let down time and time again. We need to get back to the days of old and learn from those that did it and did it right and did it for the right reasons.