Laurence Léveillé | Staff Writer
Today’s movements and street protests lack the specific demands and effectiveness of the civil rights movement.
As the second speaker of Week Eight, themed “Radicalism,” Julianne Malveaux reflected on radicalism in the civil rights and women’s rights movements during Tuesday’s morning lecture in the Amphitheater.
Malveaux defines radicalism as an “unwavering commitment to progressive social and economic justice.” The civil and women’s rights movements were not considered radical to those who were involved, she said.
But what made the civil rights movement radical was its unexpectedness. No one knew people would stand up for themselves, that the cause would inspire people or that there would be resistance, Malveaux said.
For many people in the 1950s, the civil rights movement was a “spontaneous combustion.” But there has been a history of resistance in which people picked away at the status quo, she said.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott is considered the starting point of the civil rights movement to some people, Malveaux said. Others view the sit-ins at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, N.C., as the moment that brought attention to the movement.
The tactic used during the civil rights movement was to have protesters proceed to court and use the law to look for policy to change, she said.
In Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the tactical decision was to address discrimination in education. People believed desegregating schools would allow others to compete with whites in jobs and the labor market.
But a year later, Earl Warren wrote that Brown should be applied with “all deliberate speed,” meaning it was acceptable for schools to take the time to implement the new law, Malveaux said.
Schools in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana did not desegregate until 1969. In Virginia, schools closed instead of desegregating, which left African-Americans without education. Many people decried the legal tactic, because it was too slow, Malveaux said.
“The frustration with the pace of legal change suggested that we needed to take it to the streets,” she said.
When the Montgomery Bus Boycott occurred, Malveaux said, it was able to shut down the bus company in Alabama. As a result, buses became integrated, but bus stops were still segregated.
In 1963, there was a children’s movement in Birmingham, Ala. That was when the civil rights movement began to occupy the front pages of The New York Times.
“Why were the children marching and not the adults?” Malveaux said. “The adults had been threatened with loss of their jobs, they had been threatened with loss of their livelihoods, and there were some young organizers who suggested that the children march instead.”
But the children were treated brutally, she said, and the North became more interested in the issue. The children’s movement sparked the 1963 March on Washington, which was the beginning of mass action.
The march was tightly controlled — people wore their Sunday best and had specific demands that were attainable, including voting rights and non-discrimination, Malveaux said. People also had to submit their speeches before they could speak.
The March on Washington led to both the 1963 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Voting Rights Act was another instance when states took a long time to implement the law.
The people’s strategy was to use mass action, which would lead to legal action, resistance and enforcement.
“Resistance, because there was always a backlash to change, always a backlash to movements,” Malveaux said.
The challenge facing that approach is people want to see immediate action once they have protested, she said. Others want moderation. That creates a tension between the two types of change.
“Those who want immediate change reject the tactics of gradualism, and that’s how internally you get radicalism in movements.”
Just as the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement also has a long history of resisting the idea that women are second-class citizens, Malveaux said.
Before women were given the right to vote, there was a 1920 Supreme Court case that ruled women could not lift a certain amount of weight or work night shifts, because it would compromise their ability to reproduce.
Women began fighting for their right to vote in 1913. Like the civil rights movement, there was a legal response to protest, Malveaux said. In 1920, women were granted the right to vote, and the Women’s Bureau was created.
Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which caused women to look at their current status in society. Friedman spoke about women’s unhappiness and raised questions about the “happy housewife” model in contrast with the careerist.
The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, and the Civil Rights Act included women in Title VII. Though the act was meant for African-Americans, Southern senators believed if they included a section about women, the act would not pass.
Several acts directed toward women were passed in the following years: Roe v. Wade was upheld in 1973; sexual harassment of any kind in the workplace was outlawed in 1986; and the Violence Against Women’s Act was passed in 1994.
“We look at the women’s movement, and what we can say about it,” Malveaux said. “It changed women’s thinking and lives in ways that are not likely to be reversed.”
Protests continue today but remain unknown, Malveaux said. On April 18, Unite Women held protests in 50 cities, but mainstream media did not cover them.
The civil rights and women’s rights movements have become professional since the 1960s, meaning that there is less protest than policy litigation, Malveaux said.
Protests today also focus on multiple goals rather than specific demands, she said, and there are questions regarding their effectiveness.
“Protests, street heat, has turned into showing up to make a point as opposed to showing up with specific goals,” she said.
For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement brought attention to the 1 percent having more than the 99 percent. But bringing attention to the issue is different from doing something about it, Malveaux said.
Instead of just highlighting issues, people involved in the movement could talk about specific legislation or different forms of taxation.
“What you often have is a very large umbrella with very little focus,” she said, “So you have the tactics of the civil rights movement with no direct outcomes.”
Though calling attention to issues is important, people also need to set goals for the steps that need to be taken next.
Street protests today are less effective than they were 40 years ago, but the Occupy movement has the potential to be effective if decisions regarding goals and what is wanted are developed.
“We have to look at the radicalism that exists in the movements and the way that radicalism has become mainstream,” Malveaux said. “The professionalization of these movements basically crowds out the opportunities for radicalism.”
Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: You’re talking about the fact that what determines the path for the next few years. Civil rights, women’s rights are really both in their second and third generations, and I guess some would say that perhaps they’re giving away some of the gains that were made in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Does the second or third generation create a special burden to continue those rights, to continue those efforts that were made back when the movements were more radical?
A: Well, I think the second and third generations need to find their own tactics. Many of them, indeed, have rejected the tactics of previous generations. The other thing is that many of them don’t know. When I was writing my book, Unfinished Business, with Deborah Perry — it’s a book a I wrote with a right-wing Republican to contrast the roles of women. I had a researcher, and I had written a chapter on choice, and I’d written about how a woman who was one of my college classmates had gotten an illegal abortion in 1971, because she couldn’t get a legal one. And she basically bled out, hemorrhaged — it was a horrible experience in the dorm. The student said to me, my intern said to me, “I didn’t realize that kind of thing really happened.” Well, she was 20, and so that meant this was out of her range of possibilities. I think a lot of people don’t know what kinds of things used to happen, so it’s partially a knowledge of history that prevents them, and so we have to share the history, but the other piece is that there have to be different tactics. We can’t expect people to take it to the streets all the time; there are other tactics they can develop.
Q: There are people who are asking about scholarly movements. The hip-hop scholar Jeff Chang speaks of a shift from a civil rights activism based on politics and mass demonstration to a hip-hop activism based on culture and media technology. Could you comment on that characterization?
A: Hmm. See, I don’t think that hip-hop is a culture, so let me just start there. But I do think that hip-hop is a movement that talks about, again, resistance to the status quo. From that perspective, it may have some things in common with political movements. I’m not sure. I’m going to pass on that one.
Q: Have you kept up with the education situation in Wake County, North Carolina, where mandatory busing was overturned in favor of neighborhood schools?
A: Absolutely. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, for five years, and that’s not too far away. Indeed, one of my favorite people who leads the North Carolina NAACP, Rev. William Barber, was jailed three times over the issue. Again, we have a resistance. The composition of the school board changed, and when the composition of the school board changed, basically these folks said they didn’t want busing. But you have a relative amount of class-abased segregation in the schools in Charlotte, Mecklenburg, and those schools, really — something needs to change. I’m not sure that busing is the answer, but it’s an answer and there has to be a way to make sure that students by school have somewhat equal access to various and sundry benefits.
Q: This person is asking if you see the pace of desegregation being slow, at its slowest in recent history.
A: Oh, it’s extremely slow, and much of it now is income-based as well as race based. If you look in the city of Chicago, for example, you have a majority of African-American kids going to a small number of schools, because that’s where they live. They live there, because these are poor census tracks. You might find upper-middle class African-Americans living in more integrated areas, and, therefore, their kids are going to more integrated schools, and that’s an argument, really, for busing; or for per capita equality in spending per-pupil expenditures. But any number of ways, we haven’t kept up the momentum of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Eleven o’clock on Sunday, it said, is the most segregated hour in America. And what that means is we don’t go to each other’s churches. And that really does speak to ways that we don’t bond as people across racial lines.
Q: Would you speak a little bit more about what you said about the Occupy movement contrasting their dress to the “Sunday best” of the ‘60s?
A: Well, you know, while I respect what the Occupy movement is doing, and I understand that young people don’t necessarily dress in the same way that people older than they do, it’s difficult to take folks seriously when your protest looks like a carnival. That’s pretty much how I summarize it. Jeans and T-shirts are fine — purple wigs, people on stilts — and I’m being a little judgmental, but when you look at the pictures, you think, “What’s going on here?” And so, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to act seriously. I think the other thing that’s happened with Occupy is they’ve become an umbrella. So any cause can sort of jump in. So it’s Occupy, let’s look at capitalism, but then someone’s got an anti-war thing going on, someone’s got a women’s right thing going on, and they’re all there with all these diffuse signs, and so it’s difficult for people to wrap their brains around what’s going on.
Q: We’ve got some women here who want to take you on, conservative and liberal, so I’ll start with the conservative: Twice you stated that even those women who call themselves conservative support one or another of women’s issues. Do you think that only liberals support women’s issues?
A: Not at all. I think that many women support women’s issues across party lines and across ideological lines. Indeed, the reason that I ended up writing Unfinished Business with Deborah Perry, who is a white Republican, pretty much conservative, they usually call us cornbread and white bread. I wrote the book with Deborah, because we both cared passionately about the rights of women. The fact is that we went about it different ways. So I don’t think that conservative women don’t care about women’s issues, I think that there are often differences in how we care. For example, I believe that comparable worth is one of the ways to get women to equal pay. Deborah believed that the pay gap was a function of women’s inability to have sustained careers and that, basically, skill sets eroded when people went to have children. Now, she has three now, so I want to call her up and say, “Deborah, did your skill set erode?” There are those kinds of things where we basically differ.
Q: Now from the other side. This person says many of us took our radicalism into institutional life and made some differences, and, yet, we’re not promoting, currently, promoting other women helping younger people experience their own radical instincts, and so asking, how can we recharge our radical batteries?
A: Great questions, and you’re right — one of the things we do ignore is the extent to which people take it inside and attempt to make change from the inside. I happen to think we need inside/outside strategies, that you can’t make change from the inside unless someone is pushing you from the outside. But women in law firms, women in corporate America who’ve helped other women are to be applauded. At the same time, what we know, there is the queen bee syndrome among many women — women who basically their jollies from being the only woman in the room. And it’s either a queen bee or a collaborator, the women who take some joy in bringing other women along. I think we have to look at what the long run is and essentially commit ourselves to helping other women. I think, also, recharging your batteries? Just look at the data. Look at the data, and look at where we are. We still don’t have any form of equality in pay. We look at the Congress and the number of women in Congress, and we don’t have half. The question comes up: What do women want? I say half. We want half of everything. Half of the senate. But those data inspire me often, when you just look at how far we have to go. We’ve come very far, but we’ve got a long way to go.
Q: We have some questions about your thoughts about other civil rights issues that you didn’t discuss, people with disabilities or the environment.
A: The Americans with Disabilities Act has done a lot for people with disabilities, but there are still inequalities. You have exceptions, often, for accessibility, because of history, because the building can’t take it, those kinds of things. I think we need to pay attention to that a bit more, and forgive me if that’s one of the areas I didn’t focus on. I was really focusing more on race and gender than anything else. So, clearly, the pay differential for disabled people — people who are differently abled, you see a huge pay gap and a huge amount of discrimination in the work place where many of these folks are dependant on themselves to make an income. And what was the other one? The environment. Now the environment is a civil rights issue. It’s a civil rights issue in two ways. First of all, we all have to breathe the air, and the air that is breathed in poor communities is of lesser quality than the air that’s breathed elsewhere. There is an environmental justice issue that speaks to the way that, for example, garbage dumping happens more in African-American communities or poor communities than in other places. Just coming from Greensboro, the area that was contiguous to the college had been, historically, a garbage dump. They decided to close the landfill, and then elected a very conservative mayor who decided to re-open it. It had become the sort of hot potato of Greensboro politics, then they elected a mayor who said he was going to close it again. But meanwhile, in the period that it was re-opened, you have the people’s property value fall, you have some notions of illness. They’re a whole other set of civil rights issues connected to the environment that we really need to take a look at. I went to COP15 and it was really — that was Copenhagen’s Climate Control Conference — it was a couple of years ago. And one of the things that was riveting was the ways that we think about the environment, and climate change and the way that other people do. There’s a little island in the South Pacific called Tuvalu. It’s tiny, and, basically, they’re losing about 3 percent of their landmass per year because of the number of glaciers that are melting and coming up on their landmass. So eventually, this island is going to disappear. And that’s because we aren’t paying attention to this, and these are people of color who literally were there protesting. They didn’t get a chance to even speak to the main lobby at COP15. So that was kind of an amazing thing. But we all have to pay more attention to our environment, and it’s an issue that cuts across all of our lines.
Q: There are several questions related to the comment you made about Representative Ryan’s plan, and they want to know what programs you think the government should cut to reduce the national debt, and also referring to your own doctorate in economics, what economic and fiscal policies would you like to see implemented?
A: I think that government programs should have a zero base and a review. We have some programs that are clearly ineffective, but now they have constituencies — I think we need to go back and look at those. I don’t think that things that help the poor, the least and the left out, our elders need to be eliminated. I would cut the defensive budget. We spend so much there that basically that’s crowding out some of the spending we could do in other areas. I would increase our education budget. I just wrote a piece about the Olympics. We have Olympic excellence and education mediocrity. We used to rank first in terms of education, now we’re someplace like eleventh after any number of countries that are increasing their investment in education a lot more than we are. Fiscal policies: I’m basically a Keynesian. If you look at Paul Krugman’s book, End This Depression Now!, he talks about putting money into the economy now basically to save it later. I don’t believe that the austerian point of view is a reasonable point of view. I believe that we can invest in futures — if people have jobs, they’ll pay taxes. If people have jobs in the long run, they’re more creatively engaged. So I think that we could do more. We have a failing infrastructure; literally, you could ride down some roads, some highways, which we built in the 1950s as a job stimulus under Eisenhower, and many of those roads and highways have not been repaired or improved since then. So while many austerians would say, “Let’s cut the budget, let’s reduce the debt,” I would say the budget is pretty much where it needs to be but that we need to reshuffle it. I would also say that in terms of reducing debt, that should be a long-run, but not a short-run plan. We could go back into recession or depression, almost any time. The weakness of the euro affects us. We look at the euro as if it’s over there, but we’re so intertwined that it affects us as well.
Q: Do you think that the old generation of civil rights leaders need to turn over the mantle to the next generation? How should the two groups, young and old, work together, and who would you identify as the next generation.
A: I don’t think that power is like peanuts at a cocktail party. You don’t say, “Pass the power,” you say, “Pass the peanuts.” So I’m not sure, when you talk about the older generation stepping aside — I don’t think it’s so much stepping aside as bringing in. I think that you want to bring people in, and when people find that they’re no longer effective, I think that they do step aside. You look at people like Andy Young, who has taken on a less active role over the years. You look at other people — well, I’ll tell you a funny story later, I won’t tell it on this mic, but one of our senior civil rights leaders, I was moderating a panel, and a young brother said, “Some of y’all need to step aside,” and he said, “Well, Abraham was 98.” And it sounded like, OK, Abraham was 98, and — but anyway, I do think that there needs to be more inter-generational conversation, but it has to have respect on both sides. You look at Ben Jealous, I think he’s 35 or 36, who leads the NAACP right now, and Roslyn Brock, who is the chair of the NAACP Board, who I think is about 45, and that’s the example of good young leadership. I think we look to our state legislators and other people — you have lots of African-Americans and women — we pay attention to Congress too much, and we don’t pay attention to the other up-and-coming people who are in our system, and maybe many of those folks are much younger. Majora Carter, who’s doing great work on the environment, is someone who I see as a leader of the future. There are a number of folks. There are just a number of them. But I think the way we do inter-generational transmission needs to be a lot better. We don’t do it well, and both young folks and old folks have some challenges with the ways they deal with each other.
Q: We have some questions about voter “got-chas” in Virginia and in Texas and wanting to know that these things don’t even seem to be covered in the media. Have you heard of other states and what can we do to get more attention to these issues?
A: There are about 30 states that have passed voter suppression laws. The National Council for Civil Rights Under Law (The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law), led by Barbara Arnwine, has a website that shows what she calls a map of shame. And it shows literally the states requiring ID, requiring other things, the number of things that they’ve done. Ohio is a state, for example, that’s done some things. South Carolina is one of the worst offenders. All of the Southern states have done that. But that National Conference for Civil Rights Under Law is a great place. I will leave somebody the website, because I’m probably messing up their name somehow, but they’ve got a website. If you Google Barbara Arnwine, it’ll show up her organization; the map of shame is on there. There are 30 states. You may live in one of them.
Q: How does a reasonable woman who is a feminist deal with females who are divisive, incompetent and a magnet for anti-feminist attitudes?
A: You try to ignore them. I mean, some people have made up their mind, and if they’ve made up their mind, there’s not a whole lot you can do with them. When you run into them in the work place, it’s especially frustrating, because these are the people who often block the path for other women.
Q: We’ve got some questions about defining classics and one about the contrast between the United States and France, where people in France are expected to be part of the culture, and that’s really the overriding — Another question about the classics is a library situation in which James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain is relegated to the African-American section instead of the American classics.
A: Classics are a point of view. If you look at the fact that women and people of color have been writing since the beginning of this country, but none of their work is perceived as classic, it speaks to who picked the classics. It really does speak to who decided what’s classic and what isn’t. Of course Baldwin’s book, either — The Fire Next Time would be my classic, and everybody ought to read it. It talks about rage. Betty Friedan’s book (The Feminist Mystique), frankly, is a classic; it gets you to the root of a movement. It’s taught in women’s studies, in black studies, these things should be considered American classics. You look at a number of things — Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven, give me a break, and there are other things — you question why they were considered classics. And of course, it’s like, again, who picks them. The France question is very interesting in terms of cultural knowledge, because essentially, there is a culture and a body of knowledge that everyone is expected to know. I would argue that in these United States the question of body of knowledge is very fluid. I had an editor once at King Features, and I wrote a piece about resistance, and I talked about the Red Summer of 1919. Now, for many African-American people, I don’t need to explain that any more. But I probably need to explain it to at least some of y’all. The Red Summer of 1919 was a period after World War I when African-American men had come back from fighting a war, so they were not inclined to defer to many people. And in that period of 1919, there were riots in Chicago, and St. Louis and a number of other places, and the riots were white people coming into black communities, and the unusual thing was that black people fought back. So that was the Red Summer. You had riots in some 20 cities. And this editor said to me, “You have to add three or four more sentences to explain this.” And I said to her, “This is something every American ought to know about.” And so when you talk about a common knowledge, often the common knowledge has excluded women, people of color, especially native people — people talk about Mexican immigrants. Do they not know that California used to be Mexico, just for the record?
Q: What do you think the top three goals of civil rights activists today should be?
A: Equal pay, equal access to education and other things, and I would probably say a transition of attitudes. Dr. King once said, “The law can’t make you love me, but it can keep you from lynching me.” But you would like a law that at least made — you can’t have a law, but at least a climate that made people more respectful of each other.
—Transcribed by Leah Harrison