Sunday, September 10, 2017

We need activists now more than ever

  As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last week, he said, “We are a people of compassion.”

  But there is nothing compassionate about rescinding DACA for Mohammad Abdollahi. Iranian, gay, and a DACA recipient, Abdollahi would be in extreme danger if he were deported to a country that carries out the death penalty for “repeated acts” of homosexuality.

  Yet since 2010, Abdollahi has been arrested repeatedly — each time risking deportation — while staging peaceful rallies with other young, undocumented immigrants to pressure politicians into passing immigration reform.

  His sit-ins and hunger strikes are “more confrontational,” as Michael May wrote for The American Prospect in 2013, than sympathetic photo-ops of DACA recipients wearing caps and gowns.

  His tactics are also not new. They are lifted almost verbatim from the civil rights movement—a movement that was decried in its own time as too extreme.

  “Even during that celebrated ‘golden age’ of nonviolent protest, most Americans were against marches and demonstrations,” Michael McBride, Traci Blackmon, Frank Reid and Barbara Williams Skinner wrote in an op-ed for this week’s The New York Times. As they remind us:

  A 1961 Gallup poll revealed that 57 percent of the public thought that lunch counter sit-ins and other demonstrations would hurt integration efforts. A 1963 poll showed that 60 percent had an unfavorable feeling toward the planned March on Washington, where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. A year later, 74 percent said that since black people had made some progress, they should stop their demonstrations; and by 1969, 74 percent said that marching, picketing and demonstrations were hurting the civil rights cause.

  Today as in the 1960s, it is easy for moderate Americans to see any disruption of the status quo as going “too far.”

  But as McBride, Blackmon, Reid and Williams Skinner remind us, those protests must continue in order for the fight against injustice to progress.

  As the struggle for civil rights continues, it is important not to conflate large, peaceful protests against white supremacists with a handful of violent clashes between hate groups and their opponents.

  Nevertheless, that is exactly what news outlets have been doing recently. As McBride, Blackmon, Reid and Williams Skinner write:

    Even mainstream media outlets that typically fact-check the president seem to have subtly bought into Mr. Trump’s ‘both sides’ narrative regarding right- and left-wing extremism. They’ve run headlines that highlight small violent skirmishes while ignoring the thousands who marched and protested peacefully, to say nothing of the injustices that inspired the protests.

  Certainly, all forms of violence are to be condemned, as Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project Director Heidi Beirich wrote this summer. When far-right rallies took place last month, SPLC President Richard Cohen made the distinction between peaceful and violent counter-protest.

  “In Boston when we saw thousands and thousands of people peacefully protest, that seemed like a much stronger answer to white supremacy than clubs and guns,” Cohen said on Meet the Press.

  As Dreamers like Abdollahi try to chart a path forward for immigrant rights, they must be allowed to continue nonviolently protesting last week’s crushing news in ways just as “messy, disorderly, [and] confrontational” as civil rights marchers did with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  Or else, as McBride, Blackmon, Reid and Williams Skinner write, “Those standing on the sidelines of the current racial-justice movement, waiting for a pristine or a flawless exercise of righteous protest, will have a long wait.”

  This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

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