The New Civil Rights Movement That Can Save America

by on December 23, 2014 · 15 comments

in American Empire, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, History, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

Ferguson NYC 8-14-14

Demonstrators in New York City in support of Ferguson, 8-14-14.

Not sure of what to call this new movement, this movement that sprang off of the failure to indict the white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in the shooting death of Michael Brown, and which is now a nation-wide daily outpouring of militant demonstrations against the murders of Black men and police brutality and violence.

Despite the unprovoked shooting deaths last Saturday of two police officers in New York City by a Black man with mental problems unconnected with the protests, the movement must go on and it must go on daily. The movement cannot allow this shooting or the backlash against the protests to stall its journey.

These daily demonstrations and protests that have been going on across the country have kept the issues in front of us and they have been so inspiring. The workers at the Mid-Western mall coming out in support of the thousands chanting protesters, those Congressional staffers and Congresspeople who silently stood on the steps of the Capitol in protest with their hands up, the medical students in white coats staging die-ins, students and young people here in San Diego blocking free-ways.


UCSD students block I-5 northbound in solidarity with Ferguson.

The message is clear: the system that allows these shootings by police of African-American men must change.

And the message has flowed from Ferguson to Staten Island to Cleveland and to everywhere where young Black men and boys are gunned down by cops, that this has got to stop.

Whatever its name, it is a new civil rights movement and it promises to give gifts to the nation of a tumultuous time ahead and into the New Year. It has other gifts to hand to the country as well, for this new civil rights movement is the movement that can save America.

Save America? Does America need saving?

You bet it does. From drones, government spying on its citizens, the many wars that we have been fighting, to the increasing disparity between the very rich and the rest of us, to the plunging respect for privacy and the Bill of Rights by all levels of government, this country is in deep trouble and needs something.

This new movement could be the answer. The new movement that began in a suburb of St Louis has exposed the two sides of the ugly face of America – racism and the militarization of police in this country.

This new movement is so powerful that it’s already done this, already exposed these two disabilities of our so-called democracy, and has already made changes. It’s opened up a discussion about racism – something this country has to have.

And it’s opened up a critique of how local police departments across the country have become militarized with war equipment. We saw the images from Ferguson demonstrating how the cops were responding to protests by its own civilians with military tanks and guns and attitude.

People were repulsed by these images and immediately there was a reaction against this militarization, not just of police departments, but of school districts.  The San Diego Unified School District voted to give back the military vehicle given to it by the Pentagon.

What is racism? Whatever it is, the discussion has begun. Even though a majority of American voters elected an African-American man, twice, there is still an underlying prejudice against Blacks that permeates our society. Some say it’s “systematic” and cannot be reformed away. Others are more hopeful.

Still others have lost hope and have lost respect for a legal system and a governance system that has continued to allow these type of shootings of Black men. One young Black woman epitomized this mindset when briefly interviewed by TV in a protest march in New York City. She said she was doing her homework when the protesters marched by her house, and she thought to herself, “Why should I do my homework? It doesn’t matter!” She jumped up, ran outside and joined them.

There are thousands like her, Black, white and other people of color. They mean to force this nation to wake up, to face these disabilities of racism and militarism.

So, I am very hopeful, for I see this movement as the engine of social change that will save this country. And we as a supposed nation of liberty and of law need it.

The last time there was a major civil rights movement among African-Americans, a movement that included Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, the country changed for the better.

It was out of the civil rights movement that other movements of change had their roots.  Young and white student activists involved in registering Black voters in the South returned to their campuses and provided the nuclei for a student movement that eventually created the largest anti-war movement in history. Young women from these movements, frustrated by their gender limitations, formed the modern feminist movement and pushed for women’s equality, altering this country for ever.

The Black movement for equal rights inspired other peoples of color to fight for their own rights, the Chicano and Mexican-American movements, the Native American movement, the Puerto Rican movement for independence.

Historically, the struggle for equality by African-Americans in America has been one of the most significant engines of social change, and from Selma to the White House, it made significant strides over the last 6 decades. But the strides are incomplete and we need it again.

There are other key engines of social change. In this region of America, for instance, the Chicano / Mexican-American struggle for equal rights is very central to changing society.

Another key social change locomotive is of course women’s fight for independence and equality.

And there’s other axis of social change – the classic working class versus capitalist dichotomy,  the battle for civil rights, privacy, democratic methods, the rule of law.

But right now, the new civil rights movement is what is on the table for the country. The support for this movement by whites is very telling, very encouraging – especially among young people – that despite the racist quarters of some police unions – there is a certain hope, from the grassroots, not from the pulpit or lectern  but from the signs, the chants, the bullhorns of those moving in the streets, and to coin a phrase from an old Sixties song, the movement may “take this country home again.”

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Stucky December 24, 2014 at 9:50 am

Racism? Racism is when you only mention shootings of blacks by police. Three quarters of shootings by police are white or Hispanic. Don’t they count?


rchalmers3 December 24, 2014 at 10:38 am

Thanks Frank,
While I share some optimism with you, I have sufficient cynicism to guard my hopes and expectations. For example, I notice that the price of gas at the pumps is dropping, while we witness the nascent populist movement. Could this be the 1% attempting to pacify the population? Cheap fuel has been used before as a control mechanism.

Reading your fine article left me with another thought: That racism, wealth disparity, crumbling infrastructure, constant war, militarization of the police, healthcare and gerrymandering all come from a root cause where capitalism is untethered from social justice. Specifically, racism can be eroded by wealth flow into health and education, especially into the poorest segments of society. Sure, we saw great wealth generated in the past 30 years, only but now we can see the results of Regan and others removing the governing mechanisms.

If this unnamed populist movement can make a difference, it will be to restore our representative government to be in service of more than the 1% by clearly identifying the various areas where we can re-connect our powerful capitalist system to social justice. To to so will be difficult, given the current, legal power structure that allows powerful corporations to control legislation and government action. Thus the reason for my cynicism.



Christo December 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Michael Brown was a petty thief who attacked a Police Officer while resisting arrest.


Frank Gormlie December 25, 2014 at 11:56 am

Okay, Christo, let’s take your scenario as fact for a moment; since when is execution the penalty for either petty thief or resisting arrest or both?


cc December 26, 2014 at 8:27 am

I see both sides to this issue. The problem to me, is if you put yourself in a situation to get in trouble, there is a chance the worst can happen. No Michael Brown didn’t deserve to get shot by the cops, but when someone has a gun and you attack them, you should expect to die.

Now everyone is freaking out about the guy in Berkley Missouri, because the cop didn’t have his body cam on (which should get cops fired) and he shot a guy who he said pointed a gun at him. They have a video from a gas station of the guy pointing a gun at the cop. Guess what, if you’re white, black, yellow, orange, or green, if you aim a gun at a cop, say good bye, you’re going to die.

Something does need to change, but in my opinion it starts at home, and how kids are being raised now. Everyone thinks they’re entitled to something these days, and will get violent if they don’t get their way. And that is the fault of people raising their children in a me first way.


Christo December 26, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Michael Brown attacked Darren Wilson.

If your life is threatened, you have the right to defend yourself.

Self defense is not execution.


Frank Gormlie December 27, 2014 at 10:21 am

Wilson’s life was NOT threatened – Brown’s life was threatened and taken – executed. Wilson needs to be brought to justice.


Christo December 27, 2014 at 11:37 am

Did Officer Wilson hit himself?


Frank Gormlie December 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

Something needs to change all right. How do you raise your kids and prepare them to be shot by cops?


Christo December 27, 2014 at 11:41 am

“Don’t hit cops” would be a good place to start.

When you are approached by Police Officers, it is your responsibility to do everything possible to DE-ESCALATE the situation.


obecean December 27, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Yeah right. So should citizens take courses in
“police de-escalation” to learn your techniques in dealing with overzealous police officers ?


Christo December 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm

“Don’t hit cops.”

How hard is that?


obecean December 28, 2014 at 11:43 am

Evidently you have very little experience in dealing with law enforcement officers in the real world. Otherwise you wouldn’t post your childish “solutions” to a very real societalproblem. Perhaps you missed the Rodney King police beat down as well. And never experienced a full fledged police riot first hand either.


Christo December 28, 2014 at 10:25 pm

I grew up in Los Angeles during the era of the “Daryl Gates Airforce” and Police Officers who were most definitely not community based. I had just moved back from OB to LA to take care of my Grandfather when the Rodney King Riots occurred. I remember distinctly how weird it was to sit in the backyard and listen to the silence of a city under curfew during the riots. I also remember how glad I was to move out of LA again.

When I was learning to drive, my Dad told me that when I got pulled over, that I was to put the keys on the dashboard, turn on the overhead light if it was dark, roll down the windows, speak respectfully and save any disagreements for court.

That advice served me well in a bunch of warnings, several tickets and an arrest for DUI.

There are crappy Cops out there. I don’t deny that. If you want to bring out the worst in one- escalating a stressful situation by trying to evade arrest or attacking them is a surefire way to get beaten or killed.

That being said, I believe that not all Cops are bad. I know a couple and while they are definitely different, they are not bad. The Officer that arrested me for DUI was actually a decent guy.

Frank stated that Wilson needs to be brought to Justice. I could see his point. It has been argued that the DA threw excessive information at the Grand Jury when all that is needed is to present enough evidence to justify a trial. I also believe the DA should have found someone else to present to the Grand Jury because of his background (his father was a police officer killed in the line of duty).

Interesting read here from the Nashville Chief of Police:

It may sound childish, but the best advice often is. The world would be a whole lot better place if we could all “just be nice”.


Mic DeFronzo December 24, 2014 at 6:20 pm

This week I showed my classes of 8th and 9th graders the OB Christmas tree. In each class someone quickly noted the peace sign and others commented positively about it. I was showing my students where I was going to spend Christmas. We talked about peace and what it means. Yes, this was a bit more than an average math class.

I come to OB each Christmas because of the peace, love, and joy I found here years ago during a spell of the down-and-outs (but that’s another story). The peace sign on the tree, and the way people flip the ‘V’ like it was still the sixties, these are things that OB has come to mean to me. It is a gift. Okay, but let me tell you about the greatest gift; I found it in a coffee mug.

My sister sent my Christmas gift. It was a mug, good sized the way I like it, but not that, it was what was written on the mug that was the better gift. It was something to the effect: “Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” I thought about this. I thought about some of the conflicts of the past year. I thought about how to do better.

I thought: what if all of the people who gather to march and demonstrate had Christmas cards made. You know, the kind with pictures of our kids on them; Thousands of us with pictures of tens of thousands of our children. We could give these cards to the police with a sincere wish of peace through the new years. We could ask them to have a good look at our smiling children, and to protect our children, and to serve our children’s interests. [Is it still painted on police car doors, “to protect and serve?] We could show to them the peace, love, and joy that we want, in spite of our conflict. We could seek to inspire rather than direct, a successful concept that I found as a teacher. They could be inspired and perhaps do a better job of keeping the peace.

I think it was 1989, a man was shot by police in Robb Field. It was said that he took the policeman’s Nunchaku (nun chucks) first. Later another man, an attorney in PB protested on his front-door-step, waiving a bat the police shot him too. Both men were angry. This angered police. All of this anger yielded no good thing. I suggest that the angry people stay home. They damage and do harm to the cause. The true enemy is not the police, not the criminal, not the black nor the white. The true enemy is hatred. If we want the victory in this we must leave our anger out of it and approach matters peacefully.

Today in OB many people wished me a Merry Christmas, and I them also. Some prefer happy holidays, then there’s Hanukah, and lets not forget Festivas for the rest of us. With all of the madness on the roads and in the stores this time of year, Christmas may not be everybody’s favorite holiday anymore, but consider for a moment the first Christmas. The angel said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” On earth be peace, which is goodwill toward men. This is how peace happens; we have good will toward each other. Not only peace toward those who deserve it (as if such a thing were possible), but peace toward the undeserving.

We won’t have peace by taking our grudges to the streets. We won’t have peace by hating those who rule over us. We won’t have peace by venting our political views or by dumping our angry guts on those who made us mad. Do you want peace? Bake the police some Christmas cookies. Crazy right? Show them love, not because they deserve it but because we want them to learn how to love our kids when they might not deserve it.

Nobody keeps the whole law. We all hope for mercy when we think we’re caught. How many times was the needle over the limit and the highway patrol came up fast from behind? It’s a relief not to get the speeding ticket, not to get what we desrve, and it sucks when we do get it. Mercy is what we all seek, and mercy is what we all must show.

It’s Christmas, rejoice! Mercy came! Celebrate, you don’t need to go to a church. You don’t even need to have religion, but do yourself a favor. Read the most wonderful story of the first Noel. Read about the one who was born in Bethlehem. Read about Love, and joy, and mercy, and forgiveness, and receive unearned favor from the creator of the universe. Merry Christmas!


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