It’s time for a new bus boycott

We are entering a summer of discontent. Maybe. Rage & undirected anger can only carry you so far. There are only so many statues you can pull down and windows you can break. You can march and protest for a while but sooner or later you’ll need to go and put some food on the table. Governments know this and most leaders know they can ride out a short season of anger. It’s not a difficult calculation when everything is loose and wild. ‘This fire will burn itself out’ they think and with good reason. Promises can be made and committees formed and change can be quietly shunted off into the long grass. They also know that the longer these protests are seen as acts of vandalism that there is not much to fear, the movement will fail to capture the high ground of moral justice. They will, in other words, be safe.

What is needed now is a direction that channels all the furious energy into a single visible, demonstrable, point of pressure. A campaign to capture the energies of the discontented and begin to pile growing and sustained pressure on officials and administrators until a change, one change is made. Without it, this too shall pass, and the status quo will return.

Ideally, it should be symbolic of the struggle. This was the genius of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. Rosa Parks became the symbol, Martin Luther King the voice and the bus system the point of pressure and protest. It was painful but sustainable and it became a catalyst for the civil rights movement to begin to win.

The cry of the moment is to ‘Defund the police‘ but I’m not sure that will carry the day. It’s a slogan that is too easy to misunderstand and in a country awash with guns like the US, the last thing your average citizen is going to want to do is get behind a slogan that makes them feel more afraid. If I was a community leader at this time, I’d be racking the brains of everyone I knew for an alternative because without it the change that protestors hope for will not come. Authorities in place generally have the advantage when it comes to waiting things out.

I’m not especially hopeful though. It was 9 years from bus boycott to civil rights act. Protests of a moment tend to want a new world by August, campaigns know they need to be in it for the long haul. This moment needs a symbolic campaign and a sustainable campaign. It also needs to be non-violent.

I am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos.

Martin Luther King

King was determined that this movement would be a non-violent one and he expended a lot of energy in this and rightly so. King had a greater goal than simply victory. If victory is your end goal then you’ll be open to any means by which to accomplish that victory. You win, they lose. You are victorious and they are defeated. But the defeated, especially those with massive institutional and cultural advantages can rise up and fight back. no, King’s goal was something new and better. He didn’t want to defeat his racist, white opponents, he wanted to transform them so they would no longer be his opponents. He knew that to win not just the battle but the argument for future generations the campaign had to be resolutely non-violent. To capture the institutional ground they had to lay sole claim to the moral high ground and violence would only undermine their efforts. He was right.

This could be a moment for the church in the US to demonstrate that it is a force for good. That could happen. They are one of the few groupings that could build a coalition. They are nationwide, they have trust in both black and white communities, they have history, they are resources to sustain and support those financially affected by a sustained campaign, they have intellectual resources that can sustain them and they should know that it is the peacemakers, the meek, the merciful and the persecuted who will eventually overcome tyranny and oppression. It is from there, and maybe only there that a new moral leader of the nation could arise. One can only hope.

  1. A campaign is needed and fast
  2. It needs to be symbolic
  3. It needs to be sustainable
  4. It needs to be targeted. The target can grow but what started out as a campaign for integration on buses led to complete overhaul of racist and segregationist laws.
  5. It needs to be non-violent

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