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Disobedience and Change

Nowadays, it’s impossible to escape the upcoming Presidential election. Whether it be in class on Wednesday or while watching an NFL game on Sunday, Joe Biden and Donald Trump have crept into every corner of our lives. While the pandemic is a big focus of the election, so too is racial justice and police reform. After the killing of George Floyd in May, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump affirmed their support for peaceful protests while denouncing violent riots. The candidates both seem to be trying to maximize their likability by denouncing all forms of violence resulting from the Black Lives Matter movement. While many in the electorate might engage with this message, the argument that riots are dangerous and ineffective is wrong as evidenced by today’s Zinn reading.


In the chapter “Or Does it Explode?”, Zinn explains the long history of the civil rights movement from its origins in the 1950s through the end of the 1960s. In doing so, Zinn dispels the myth that peaceful protest was the only agent of change in the civil rights movement. The strategy of peaceful protest was “effective because it could be used to appeal to national opinion against the segregationist South.” However, Zinn recognizes that, while leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. had a great impact on turning American sentiment against the Jim Crow South, acts of defiance such as rioting sealed the passage of the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act. As Zinn notes, “Congress responded to the riots of 1967 by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968.” Indeed, the violence incited by leaders such as Malcolm X and Huey Newton served a purpose by pressuring the US government to act and make legislation to protect black communities. The proximity of the CRA’s passing with the riots of 1967 show that disobedient behavior, contrary to current political opinion, is a valuable method of affecting change. 


The Carson article adds nuisance to Zinn’s argument by showing that Martin Luther King Jr. should not necessarily be celebrated in the fashion he currently is on MLK day. In the article, Carson dispels some of what our current education system tells us about the civil rights activist. In no manner does the author attempt to criticize or delegitimize the importance of King in the civil rights movement. Rather, the article displays how the movement originated from the ground up. Only after issues were brought to the forefront by individuals were leaders like MLK able to lead through sophisticated, academic, and charismatic leadership. Indeed, in order for MLK to make this change, acts of disobedience such as riots or sit-ins were needed as an impetus.

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One Comment

  1. Samuel Hussey Samuel Hussey

    I enjoyed your topical connection of the upcoming election to the readings. There are only two weeks remaining until the election and tensions will be rising from this point forward. I am interested to see if there will be any riots or protests about the election results from either side depending on the victor. Our current president has strongly condemned rioting but if the election does not go his way, we could see him encouraging it to induce chaos and promote his case.

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