Singing and digging for victory – learning from the Civil Rights movement

Anyone who gives a damn about building movements for justice and a habitable planet will want to read this –

It was while living in that Shreveport house that I first became aware of both the patience and the direct action required for effective Black struggle. We had no sewage line or electricity. Both stopped at the end of the white neighbourhood a couple of blocks away. My grandmother asked the city for electricity and an extension of the sewage line and the city said it would if people in our neighbourhood dug a ditch and postholes. So after working all day, the men came home and then worked some more digging. My grandmother organized the women to feed the men. It took months. When it was finished the city came out and inspected it, then said the ditch and postholes were on the wrong side of the road. “Do them over if you want the sewer line and electricity,” they said. The men gave up. Quit. Every evening after that my grandmother dragged a chair to the side of the road, sat in it, and sang. Day after day she did that. Kids teased her. Neighbors shook their heads and said she’d gone crazy. But then one day, Mr. Jack from across the street stopped in front of her and asked, “If I start digging, will you stop sitting here singing?” She said yes. He started digging. She stopped sitting and singing. Soon other men joined Mr. Jack. When they finished, instead of my grandmother going down to ask for electric power and the sewer line, they all went down. And they got it. And later, got the dirt road paved. Throughout the South, what is now known as the 1960s civil rights movement had roots in these kinds of direct action.

David Dennis, in his foreword to Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights, Robert P. Moses and Charles E. Cobb, Jr.

So, what have we learned here –
1) Don’t turn up for your first visit to the civil authorities on your own. Go in numbers.
2) Get specific (written?) agreement from these clowns (e.g. which side of the street), because they will take ANY and EVERY opportunity to screw you over in order to demoralise you. Bureaucrats/civil servants fear and loathe engaged citizenry to an even greater level than they have contempt for the elected politicians they are supposed to be controlled by.
3) Sometimes you have to shame your side into staying in the fight.

Other lessons? What do people think?


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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One Response to Singing and digging for victory – learning from the Civil Rights movement

  1. Sam Gunsch says:

    It’s a truism but the necessity of simple basic persistence for certain tactics is one of the lessons epitomized by the grandmother’s action.

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