We Did it Before, We'll Do it Again
 — Bruce Hartford
August 14 2017

[On Saturday, August 12 2017, white-supremacists in Charlottesville VA attacked justice & equality protesters, killing one person and injuring many. Across the country that evening, anti-white-supremacy and Charlottesville-support rallies were hastily organized. The address below was given at one such vigil in San Francisco, CA.]

"As you can see from my gray beard I'm old. Old enough that for me this is my second time around. Back in the '60s I was a civil rights worker, I worked for Dr. King in Alabama and Mississippi. The first protest I ever joined was in Torrance California, at that time a segregated white-only community. Our small CORE picket line was outnumbered two-to-one by uniformed members of the American Nazi party in full swastika who attacked us while the police stood by. And, of course, the Klan violence in the South was far worse.

But back then we beat them. We beat them with rallies and protests like this one all over the nation. And education and organizing and mobilizing alongside communities of color who had long been engaged in resisting racist terrorism. What most PBS documentaries fail to teach is that the bulk of white-supremacist violence was (and still is) incited and enabled by politicians for their own political purposes — politicians like George Wallace of Alabama and James Eastland of Mississippi. And the violence was (and is) enabled by the police. The KKK knew cops would stand by, prosecutors wouldn't charge, juries wouldn't convict, and judges wouldn't sentence so they felt free to engage in their terrorism without fear of consequences.

We changed that by building a nation-wide, mass peoples' movement that was powerful enough to exact a political toll on northern politicians who stood by in silence while federal officials chose not to enforce the law because offending the white South was politically inexpedient. And we built a peoples movement that imposed on the South's ruling elite a steep economic cost in lost investment and business for using white terrorism as a strategy of political power.

But be very clear. We never changed the hearts and minds of the Nazis and the Klansmen. They're still with us today as we just saw in Virginia. Nor did we ever manage to halt sporadic acts of individual violent bigotry. Racist violence has been part of the American fabric since day-one. What we were able to do though was build a movement that forced national and southern politicians to cease inciting, enabling, and tolerating organized, widespread, state-sanctioned violence for the purpose of maintaining white-supremacy through intimidation and terrorism.

Don't think it was easy though. It took five long, hard, years of organizing and mobilizing from 1960 to 1964 before we managed to force the federal government to finally, reluctantly, bestir itself. And several more years before their actions against the Klan and White Citizens Council became effective in defending people of color against systematic sanctioned terrorism. And at the same, time communities of color began organizing their own disciplined, strategic, self-defense. Once Klansmen realized that people were not going to take it anymore and that terrorists might actually end up in prison the lynchings, church bombings, night-rider raids, and violent mob attacks declined markedly.

Racist violence never entirely ended, but it ceased to be an effective means of social-control through terror and intimidation. Now some politicians believe inciting and enabling white violence is once again their path to political power. But we beat them before and we can do it again with rallies like this one, with marches up Market Street, with educating, organizing, and mobilizing for justice, equality, and democracy."

Copyright © Bruce Hartford


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