[By September of 1964, the presidential campaign between Democrat Lyndon Johnson and Republican Barry Goldwater was well underway. Many of the more conservative Black leaders, such as Roy Wilkins, national head of the NAACP, called for a "moratorium" on all forms of direct action until after the election so as not to upset white voters and cause them to vote for Goldwater.]
Our "friends" tell us to stop demonstrating. They tell us that demonstrations will hurt our cause. They tell us that demonstrations will get Goldwater elected. Well, we have always had friends who have advised us against demonstrating. But this time the stakes are high, and some civil rights people are listening. These people are making a great mistake.
Let no one think I like the idea of Goldwater winning the election. It scares the hell out of me. There is a difference between Goldwater and Johnson. I don't really like Johnson, but I have lived under his type of regime, and I'm used to it. I can't even imagine how bad it would be to live in a country which was captured by the extreme right.
Still I advocate that the civil rights movement stay in business. I advocate that we continue doing what we have always done. Why? There are many reasons.
If Goldwater gets elected, I will hold the liberal prophets of doom responsible, not the civil rights movement. These are self-fulfilling prophesies they preach. Over and over they state publicly that people who are angry at our demonstrations will vote for Goldwater. The great majority of whites still do not support Goldwater. They will vote for him only if it is made clear that a vote for Goldwater is a vote against civil rights. It is not Goldwater who is making this clear, it is some of our liberal friends. The bigots are frustrated. They don't know what to do about the civil rights movement. Our liberal friends are telling them what to do. They are telling them to vote for Goldwater.
By curtailing demonstrations, we guarantee a Goldwater victory. He can lose the election and still have a victory. He can tell the people: "I am the only one who can stop the Negroes. They're scared of me. I am the only one who can control them." Goldwater's greatest weakness as a candidate is that people don't think he can produce. He can't create jobs, he can't win the Cold War, and he can't stop the civil rights movement without destroying even the formal democracy that exists in this country. Even the poor whites who form the bulk of the "white backlash" know this. If we stop demonstrating, we will prove to them that Goldwater can produce.
Cowardice has always been the characteristic trait of the American liberals. They are willing to take a principled stand, as long as there is no risk involved. As soon as a risk develops, however slight, they chicken out. They didn't learn their lesson during the McCarthy period. They kept backing up before they were shoved. They formed their own un- American activities committees in their own organizations. Fearing to take a unified stand against the witch-hunt, they allowed it to grow to such menacing proportions that only the Army could stop it. Sure the right wing is a menace, but if we keep backing up when they try for more power, even the Army won't be able to stop them, and it won't want to.
We must keep fighting for equal opportunity, we must keep fighting for justice. If we stop raising demands, if we stop raising issues, neither party will be responsive to our needs.
But exactly what do our liberal advisors ask of the civil rights movement? They ask the movement to stop holding demonstrations. They ask it to cool things down. Maybe the movement can call off its demonstrations, but it can't cool things down. All it can do is withhold leadership. People can't be turned on and off. In those areas where violence is feared, a moratorium on demonstrations will make things hotter. The active civil rights leadership is not firmly entrenched in the Negro community, and it will lose its influence as soon as it stops producing results. Within the community, a moratorium on civil rights activity can only be interpreted as a sign that the movement is not totally committed to the problems of the ghetto. It will show that the movement has reservations. The people are angry. The people are bitter. The situation is tense, and justifiably so. The civil rights movement holds some promise of results to the Negro community. This cannot be withdrawn. The reality of protest is with us. The only question remaining is whether the protest will have direction or whether it will not.
When civil rights groups demonstrate they do so as part of a program with specific aims. Often the program has much to be desired, but protests with a program is far better than disorganized protest. A moratorium on demonstrations is a moratorium on planning. The oppression of the ghetto remains, pressures build up, and in one way or another they will be released.
The civil rights movement is being asked to play the role of an Uncle Tom. An Uncle Tom is a Negro who has the ear of the white power structure. They allow him to grant certain favors to the Negro community. They even allow him, if necessary, to act militant, in return for which he controls the Negro community. The civil rights movement is not able to play this role. Any such attempt would be disastrous. It cannot control the Negro community, nor should it want to. Its only proper role is to work toward producing the most effective programs for the elimination of the economic and political oppression of the Negro. Neither blacks nor whites who consider themselves part of the movement can say "we'll be good boys 'til November."
If we could stop the protests, come November there wouldn't be a movement. Come November, the Democrats once again will have bought the Negro vote for nothing, and they will have learned how to blackmail the civil rights movement. The scare out, sell out pattern will have been set. Next year, they'll try to repeal the Bill of Rights to again frighten us off the streets, and keep us from exercising our rights.
No, we won't stop demonstrating. We won't let the reaction scare us into quitting and making a deal to accept the status quo. We're tired of "friends" we want allies.
Copyright © Jack Weinberg. 1964.