We are all familiar at this point with the troubling and alarming incidents of violent protest on college campuses across the country. We know that this violence is intended to have a stifling effect on free debate and freedom of speech. But one writer argues that violent protestors are undermining not just free inquiry but the legacy of the American civil rights movement.
“The student protesters we witness today proclaim that they are the champions of social justice and civil rights,” writes Robert Woodson at The Washington Times, “while in fact, they are commandeering the rich legacy and hard-won victories of the Movement.”
Woodson notes that not only do the violence and mayhem at campuses around the country represent “evidence of a dangerous polarization,” but they possess an additional deeply alarming attribute: “The presidents of these institutions were complicit in the actions of the student demonstrators by refusing to summon the campus police to protect the victims.”
The failure of college presidents to protect innocent people from violent harm “[shares] much in common with the city officials in Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s,” where Birmingham officials allowed violent Klansmen to “savagely beat black men, woman and children.”
In the Sixties, civil rights demonstrators fought a war against injustice and for inclusion on a level playing field. We did not make the sacrifices that we did so different minority groups of graduating students today can demand their own separate graduation ceremonies, as some have. Our goal was to be judged by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin — or our sexual orientation, or gender identity.
We fought for freedom of speech, not limited to that which pleases or agrees with our opinion. In fact it was the presence of spirited challenges and debate within the ranks of the movement that propelled it to success. Under the leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., protests were at all times peaceful and their intent was to stop the transgressions of our enemies by winning them over as friends.
It is the responsibility of those of us who were on the front lines of that movement to declare that the goals, spirit, and tactics of college protesters today have nothing to do with the vision that so many struggled and even died for 50 years ago.
There is a real danger that if the only challenge to the forces of race grievance is violent opposition from the extreme right, the anarchists in this country could push us into severe open racial conflict. Responsible peaceful voices of opposition to the race grievance industry must join together to rescue the civil rights legacy from defamation. Dr. King counseled that the only protection that a minority has is the demand for moral consistency.
The Americans who share such a vision, Woodson writes, “are being silenced by those on the extremes.
“It is time to provide a platform for the voices of the silent majority.”