Quote from the New York Times Op-Ed: Waiting for a Perfect ProtestThanks to the sanitized images of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement that dominate our nation's classrooms and our national discourse, many Americans imagine that protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and countless local organizations fighting for justice did not fall victim to violent outbreaks. That's a myth. In spite of extensive training in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, individuals and factions within the larger movement engaged in violent skirmishes, and many insisted on their right to physically defend themselves even while they proclaimed nonviolence as an ideal (examples include leaders of the SNCC and the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Mississippi).
Mike Miller, 9/17/17
SNCC Field Secretary, 1962 — end of 1966.
Below is my letter in response to "Waiting for a Perfect Protest." I hope you will join me in signing the letter. If you are so disposed, please return your signature with some identification related to your time in the Movement — e.g. "Mississippi Summer Project Volunteer, July-September, 1964... or ... "Field Secretary, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, 1962 - 1964".
Letter to the Editor
New York Times
"Waiting for a Perfect Protest?" (NYT September 1, 2017), an opinion piece authored by four clergypeople (M. McBride, T. Blackmon, F. Reid and Barbara Williams Skinnere), has the right sentiments, but is unfortunately wrong on important facts. They try to use the history of the 1960s civil rights movement to make a case against what its authors call "paralyzingly unrealistic standards when it comes to what protest should look like." Contrary to the case they try to make, it is indeed those "unrealistic standards" that were, in part, responsible for the broad support the early phase of the civil rights movement1955-to-1964/65had from the rest of the country, even when its tactics made them uncomfortable.
To be precise, the authors say it is a "sanitized image" that leads us to conclude "that protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and countless local organizations fighting for justice did not fall victim to violent outbreaks. That's a myth. In spite of extensive training in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience, individuals and factions within the larger movement engaged in violent skirmishes, and many insisted on their right to physically defend themselves even while they proclaimed nonviolence as an ideal (examples include leaders of the SNCC and the Deacons for Defense and Justice in Mississippi)."
The protests organized by SCLC and SNCC fell victim to the violence of white racists. In sit-ins, freedom rides and mass demonstrations, and at offices of voter registrars, they were nonviolent. That contrasts sharply with what the "Black Bloc" anarchists now do in planned nonviolent actions. They show up, then break windows, torch automobiles and otherwise engage in property destruction. In some instances they have engaged in personal violence against counter-demonstrators. In the name of "diversity of tactics", at lease some nonviolent demonstrators refuse to repudiate these tactics. That is a mistake.
SNCC supported the right of local people to protect themselves in their homes, with guns if necessary. And when Holmes County leader Hartman Turnbow came out of his firebombed house with guns blazing, probably killing some Klansmen in the process, they applauded. Some of them carried guns in their cars when they drove on isolated roads seeking to reach cotton plantation workers to urge them to register to vote. But these are very different circumstances. SNCC people did not see a contradiction between this and their philosophical or tactical commitment to nonviolence.
The Deacons for Defense accompanied nonviolent demonstrators in some cases. They were armed, and promised to fire if the demonstrators were attacked. But it never happened! In no instance did the Deacons fire their guns.
So, yes, "The civil rights movement was messy, disorderly, confrontational," but, no, it was not "sometimes violent." The Black Bloc is a leech on the broader movement. If they want to do their thing, let them separately organize it. The mainstream movement should repudiate them.
Ron Carver, 9/7
Campaigns for Social Justice
Excellent. Please add my name. I had guns in our freedom house in Starkville and in my car. Never at a rally, protest or Freedom Day event. And I never hid my face.
See also the great op-ed by SNCC Arkansas project staff Mitch Zimmerman: Progressives Cannot Prevail by Tolerating Antifa's Violence
Chude Allen, 9/7
Atlanta Student Movement and 1964 Mississippi Summer Volunteer
Mike, I believe your condemnation of the Black Bloc anarchists is too broad. Cornel West and some other religious nonviolent protestors in Charlottesville believe the Antifa demonstrators may have saved their lives ( Yes, What About the "Alt-Left?").
Also, I've seen Facebook entries by people who were at the Berkeley demonstration saying the media distorted the role of the Antifa activists. I would be happy to add my name, if you qualified your condemnation to those Black Bloc anarchists who do break windows and do other harm to property. But when they protect people protesting the fascists, why is that different from the Deacons and others? Please don't use my name if you are not willing to qualify your blanket condemnation.
Stephen Bingham, 9/7
Yes, Mike, I agree with Chude. That's an important qualification. I have confirmation from others that the MSM accounts have often been simplistic, lumping all antifas together and not making the distinctions Chude points out. I think that, if your language isn't slightly changed, there will be a significant negative reaction from some (many?) of our comrades.
The edits could be very simple, saying some' Black Bloc anarchists in the two places in your text I highlighted in yellow. You might also add a sentence such as: "The Black Bloc Antifa movement has different components, some attacking demonstrators preaching hate, some protecting peaceful demonstrators and a few attacking private property (cars, store windows etc.)" I think there was actually very little smashing of windows compared to earlier demonstrators protesting cop violence against blacks or one of the many wars the US is waging in the world.
I'll sign if you really don't want to change text but I'd like you to explain why to all of us.
Hope you agree,
Casey Hayden, 9/8
The reports from Charlottesville of protection from Black Block Antifa, (protection as opposed to fighting violence with violence), seem to be primarily reports of individual members of that group acting outside the plans of the group as a result of individual interactions with nonviolent protesters.
The point being made by Mike is that while similar individual efforts were present on the edges of the Southern movement, the movement as a whole was nonviolent. This distinction is what I am signing on to.
9/8 Ron Carver
Regardless of whether one believes Antifa provoked or countered violence, their presence repels broad participation as large numbers are as hesitant to join militaristic protests today as they were to join the Weathermen's self righteous Days of Rage. Folks don't want to put themselves, their children and grandchildren in close proximity to a group playing out macho fantasies. I don't want to support hateful protestors whether their hoods are white or black, regardless of their rationale. During my year in Mississippi, we kept our guns at home or in our cars. And we marched proudly and publicly.
Bruce Hartford, 9/8
While I had/have some variance from Mike's draft, I believe that Ron's observation below strikes to the heart of the matter for me which is why I asked Mike to include my name on his statement.
Chude raised a valid point about what was antifa's actual role in Cville. There seems to be conflicting reports. But their macho appearance/posturing is also a political factor. I participated in the mass 5000+ person totally nonviolent march from the Castro to Civic Center to protest the scheduled right-wing rally at Crissy Field. Three young, masked, helmeted, goggled, antifa showed up. They swore they were just there to provide protection, and they did nothing violent at all. But the marchers around them were uncomfortable and uneasy with their presence and provocative appearance.
Reference was made to the Deacons for Defense. I was protected by the Deacons in Mississippi during the Meredith March. Their presence was quite different from the protection offered by antifa (if, in fact, that's what the case was in Cville). The Deacons never flaunted, postured, posed, or made macho of themselves. They were discreet and non-provocative. The Deacons operated in close-cooperation and mutual respect with nonviolent organizations like CORE which is certainly not the vibe from Oakland's Black Bloc.
Edie Black, 9/8
Thanks Mike, I will sign the letter.
Taught Freedom School summer 1964 in Mileston, Holmes County. I lived at Hartman and Sweets Turnbow's house, and can attest to how committed the Turnbows were to nonviolent protest.
I remember SNCC being so committed to nonviolence that they engaged several psychologists to circulate among Freedom Summer volunteers at our training session in Ohio to identify those who were potentially violent and even too confrontational and how some volunteers were asked to leave for that reason.
Betty Garman Robinson, 9/8
While I agree with some of the thoughts expressed by Mike in the letter and some of the thoughts of Chude and Steve, and think the letter could be revised, I'm not interested in signing.
I think the media has spent too much time focused on the "violence" of the anti-fa making it seem that their forces were much larger and more aggressively violent than they were (my understanding is they provided a counter-defense only with fists and maybe sticks in a few cases in Charlottesville). I encourage everyone to read the link provided by Chude.
The media (and 45) have totally down played the incredible violent assaults done by the white supremacists and the lack of police intervention. My friends who went to Charlottesville [with SURJ] do not have evidence that anti-fa folks either initiated attacks or had knives, guns, tiki torches or did any property destruction. On the other hand the Nazi/KKK folks were armed with guns and knives as well as those torches.
I have also heard there is struggle and conversation within our movements with the anti-fa folks about the role they are playing, have played and may potentially play. They are far from a a monolithic tightly disciplined force. Maybe the conditions in the Bay Area are different, so I'm prepared to learn about that. I am also hopeful that people talking directly with anti-fa people in their local areas will lead to some evolution in the role those folks play.
I agree that the column writers did mischaracterize the 60s movement when they talked about skirmishes in the streets. On the other hand, there's at least one story in Hands on the Freedom Plow from a woman who couldn't remain nonviolent and kicked a cop as well as a story about a local man who brought a gun to a march in a paper bag, "just in case". So i suspect there were many other instances of this which didn't get publicized. And, we can also acknowledge the self-defense and/or prevention stance of many Black community folks. Thanks to Charlie we have many of those stories.
Because we're in a different era right now, with a different set of circumstances, I'm not prepared to stand on a elder soap box and critique this new movement as they work out their strategies and approaches. Let's direct our critiques and our energy to the fight to end white supremacy in all its forms.
Mike Miller, 9/9
We wouldn't be Movement people if we didn't discuss and debate, so thanks for all your thoughtful questions, comments, exceptions, proposed revisions, etc.
Having now spent some time trying to absorb all of them, and having limited time myself to devote to this op ed piece, here's what I now have added to the letter (see bold and italicized in the following paragraph):
The protests organized by SCLC and SNCC fell victim to the violence of white racists. In sit-ins, freedom rides and mass demonstrations, and at offices of voter registrars, they were nonviolent. That contrasts sharply with what the "Black Bloc" anarchists and "Antifa" now do at planned nonviolent actions. They show up, then break windows, torch automobiles and otherwise engage in property destruction. In some instances they have engaged in personal violence against alt-right demonstrators. In the name of "diversity of tactics", at lease some nonviolent demonstrators refuse to repudiate these tactics. That is a mistake. *(Charlottesville, nonviolent demonstrators say Antifa people rescued them from fascist violence. That individual Antifa people acted with humanity and courage is not the point here. We're talking about ideology, policies and general practices that should be repudiated by the mainstream movement.)*
Just to be clear, in the final the text will be no different from that of the main content.
The addition constitutes about 8% of the total text. I do not want nuances to take more than that, which is why I didn't add additional substance that has been raised in some of your critical observations.
Regarding us old farts telling young people what they ought to think, I don't think we're telling anyone anything. We're sharing our thoughts, as I wish there would have been more movement "elders" from the '30s, '40s and '50s who would have shared theirs without trying to impose them on us. Not that anyone of you has directly said that, but I think comments made come close.
Dennis Roberts, 9/9
More important why can't the letter say "SOME OF THE black block and antifa...
Anyhow with that addition I would gladly sign my name. I know a number of antifa who are not violent but go to protect the demonstrators. They do not do the damage you describe.
Mike Miller 9/11
My first draft of the op ed for the New York Times led several of the people to whom it was sent to take exception to my blanket characterization of Black Bloc/Antifa demonstrators.
For some, that concern was answered when I added: "(Charlottesville, nonviolent demonstrators say Antifa people rescued them from fascist violence. That individual Antifa people acted with humanity and courage is not the point here. We're talking about ideology, policies and general practices that should be repudiated by the mainstream movement.)"
For others, the addition was not sufficient. In my view, the dividing line has to do with either support for the "diversity of tactics" position (in which case, all tactics are to be tolerated), and/or failure to distinguish the spontaneous or particular behavior of individuals (some of whom aren't violent) with what is ideology, policy and general practice on the part of these groups.
In my view, and this goes beyond the content of the letter, direct and deliberate confrontation with the Alt-Right, Nazis, white supremacists, et al, even when it is nonviolent yelling to prevent them from holding a meeting or rally, and especially when violence against persons or destruction of property is involved, is exactly the reaction the racists want to provoke.
There is organizing adage that says, "the action is in the reaction". When there is no reaction, there is no adrenalin, no media, no solidarity that is created by conflict, no sense of righteousness of purpose. The Boston marchers had the right idea: their turnout dwarfed that of the Alt-Right, and the marched on their own route, separate from those whose purpose they opposed.
Dennis Roberts, 9/11
I agree with Chude, Steve and Casey. Although many of the black bloc and anti/fa (and there is a difference) folks come to do damage and battle the fascists, some do offer protection. I made a very simple suggestion - why not add that "SOME OF...."
Without it I am not willing to sign my name because I think a blanket condemnation of anti/fa is wrong.
Dennis Roberts, 9/12
All is wished was the tiniest change which is that not all antifa committed random violence. Sure some of these jerks come to the party to smash windows. But not all do. Some really come to protect their peaceful unarmed brothers and sisters against armed violence of the Nazis. Too bad there were no antifa in Hitler's Germany though there was some armed resistance like the Warsaw ghetto and the unsuccessful plots by the Prussian military to kill Hitler. Mike disagrees with my request to add "some" or "not all" or I forget what I wrote but that's the point. So I won't sign his letter as I think it's unfair to the people who rescued the protesters in Charlottesville and it plays into the Orange moron's "all sides".
Mike Miller, 9/12 The letter that Dennis doesn't want to sign says,
Charlottesville, nonviolent demonstrators say Antifa people rescued them from fascist violence. That individual Antifa people acted with humanity and courage is not the point here. We're talking about ideology, policies and general practices that should be repudiated by the mainstream movement.
Isn't that a distinction between "some" and something else?
Terry Cannon, 9/12
Two days ago, 9/10, another attempt to attack peaceful anti-fascist demonstrators by truck was made. This time in Vancouver, WA. I'm not clear why it failed, whether the drivers chickened out, the police intervened, or alert demonstrators forcibly returned the objects thrown out of the truck as it backed into the crowd. My point being, this is going to continue, and again shows that the fascists are not poor victims of the suppression of free speech, but active provocateurs and a clear and present danger. Some element of self-defense needs to be incorporated into our protests, as we successfully did in Stop the Draft Week in 1967.
Assuming that "antifa" is a tendency within the wider anti-white-supremacist movement, why should they be purged? I'm not willing to expel a part of the movement on the assertion that they "show up, then break windows, torch automobiles" etc without knowing how true this is, to what degree they are accepted/tolerated/welcomed by the larger movement and the degree they can be incorporated into a needed self-defense element to protect peaceful and angry anti-white-supremacist from alt-right goons.
Ron Carver, 9/12
Frankly I would rather have the change say " A few non-violent demonstrators said that they believed some Antifi people rescued them..."
Sorry, the point here is that hooded folks posturing as "more militant than thou" anti-racists are doing what the once hooded Klan and self-proclaimed neo-Nazis have been unable to do: smear the ever growing numbers of newly activist anti-racist folks on the left to the point that:
The right, the FBI and others who have failed in stopping us are laughing all the way back to their kkklaverns.
Courtland Cox, 9/12
Whatever this New York Times discussion achieves, the people whose very existence is threatened by the negative stereotypes of race in America will continue their on going struggle.
Theresa El-Amin, 9/12
Southern Anti-Racism Network (SARN)
Seems this is the big movement conversation in these times. Was on a conference call with folks from Beyond Extreme Energy on Tuesday evening on the topic of "fighting white supremacy". Some others on this list were on the call. Thanks to Ted Glick for posting the call info.
I'm reading the Mark Bray book, "Antifa: the Anti-Fascist Handbook." I recommend it along with the Leonard Zeskind work, "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream."
My up close experience with Antifa activists is one of respect for boldness and fearlessness. Collaborated with them in 2010-2011 to run American Renaissance out of Charlotte NC. AmRen was run out of DC in 2009. Daryle Lamont Jenkins (One People's Project) contacted me about AmRen plans to hold their conference of elite white supremacists in Charlotte. Southern Anti-Racism Network joined the effort to educate the Charlotte community about AmRen. The community response led to the hotel canceling its contract with AmRen citing concerns about safety of all hotel guests. No other Charlotte hotel would host the conference of white supremacists.
It was a successful united front effort of labor, community, Antifa, Jewish activists from several states across generations.
Diplomatic relations with Antifa are possible and necessary to build the united front needed to halt the advance of this new wave of fascists and white supremacists. Clarity on rules of engagement were important at Charlotte NC in 2011. We learned from each other.
Much respect and solidarity,
Eugene Turitz, 9/15
Summer 1965 Panola Country Mississippi
We are all people who have decided, at one time or another, to defend people from attacks that are being committed against them. Attacks for trying to eat at a lunch counter, for trying to register to vote, for trying to go to school, for trying to live a decent life. We have been involved in discussions about the tactics that would be used. We have recognized the differences between those of us who are religiously or philosophically committed to nonviolence and those who see nonviolence in a tactical way. Many of us have participated in the defense of peoples lives and homes by being armed. Others would only use their bodies. These are choices we made with other people with whom we were working and with whom we were sharing the dangers and responsibilities of our choices.
One of the reasons that we were able to be effective in the work that we did was that the people with whom we were working recognized us and the dangerous reality into which we were placing ourselves. While we could leave and most of them could not, many of us did "serve our time" for the work that we were doing. Everyone knew who we were. We and they knew that what we were all doing was "against the law" and that people could and did suffer for what they did.
We do not know who the "antifa" or Black Bloc are. We do not know with whom we are talking or more importantly with whom we are demonstrating. How can we have any trust with people whose identities are hidden. We have had enough of that with the police and others who have been working against us. Today when we demonstrate, protest or fight back we need to be public, to be recognized. When we are working to bring more people into our movement they must know who we are so that they feel that they can trust us and what we are fighting for. Those who are unwilling to join us in an open, public way should not disrupt the work that we are doing.
Let us all know the people with whom we are talking, demonstrating, working, and fighting for a world without the many anti-human conditions that exist now.
If you were part of the Southern Freedom Movement, and listed in our Veterans Roll Call, you are encouraged to add your comments to this discussion by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.