Sunday, February 7, 2010

Flacks: Greensboro's 50th, and the mission

Hi. Dick Flacks is an emeritus professor of sociology at UCSB, whom
I've known primarily through his writings about folk and protest music.
The Greensboro sit-ins deserve this spotlight. Though Rosa Parks
Martin Luther King Jr., et al began the civil rights movement in 1956,
it was centered around the black church and the adults who worshiped
there. Greensboro engaged teenage students, transforming and
energizing the entire freedom movement.

It led to formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,
SNCC or 'Snick' as popularly called, caught the imagination of young
people throughout the country, inspired organizations such as S.D.S.,
engaged them into Freedom Summers Voting Registration, filled
the jails on the south and spawned the era of the 1960's, including
the music. Critically, It also brought about direct action as an option
to progressive struggles in the south, and movements throughout
the nation and world into an entire historic era of change.

The direct engagement of the idealistic young is critical, and possible,
including now. Look at the recent spurt of mass protests over huge
college budget cuts combined with near doubling of tuition costs. And
the process is ongoing. Flacks further explores that in 'The Mission'
(my title, as editor). Enjoy. -Ed

----- Original Message -----
From: RFlacks
Sent: Saturday, February 06, 2010 11:04 AM

Mickey and I are back from an trip to Vietnam/Cambodia. I'll be blogging a
bit about that, but my first posting on return concerns the 50 th
anniversary of the Greensboro sit-in:

Step by Step
the longest march can be won

Posted by rflacks on: February 05 2010

We're back from an extended trip--to Vietnam and Cambodia. I'll try to
report on that experience here in a few days. but just now I wanted to take
note of the fact that the 'first' lunch counter sit-in occurred 50 years ago
this week. It was the action by 4 black students at North Carolina A & T on
the afternoon of February 1, 1960 that I refer to. It wasn't really the
first such action--small groups of black and white activists had made
similar forays in other southern towns in prior years. But the Greensboro
act was the one that made history.

First of all, the fact that these students sat down at a segregated lunch
counter, ordered coffee, were refused and harrassed--all this appeared on
TV. The next day they were joined by a couple of dozen others, and within
days lunch counters at five and dime stores across the South were beseiged
by black kids ordering beverages in violation of local law and/or custom.
The structure of southern segregation was made to crumble by this simple,
everyday move of students' bodies into banned space--a move covered in the
world media.

These sit-ins were the spark that ignited the mass southern freedom
movement, for they were followed by similar moves into other banned spaces:
freedom riders on segregated buses, freedom swimmers in segregated pools,
freedom shoppers, freedom voters. Mass marches of children that filled local
jails or were dispersed by fire hoses and snarling dogs and cattle prods.

The vulnerability of segregation of public facilities is that it can be
broken by these simple acts of bodily transgression. And it's the nature of
mass movement that when a powerfully policed institution is shown to be
vulnerable, large numbers of people see the chance to pour through the
cracks even when they risk jail and violent reprisal.

Due notice has been taken of the anniversary, most notably by the conversion
of the original lunch counter in Greensboro into a civil rights museum. But
not enough notice, I feel, given the momentousness of the original

Here's what deserves more recognition:

1. The four sit-inners acted on their own out of their own intense
conversations about how they could make a difference in the world. And their
act showed how a small number of people, acting creatively, can make
history--can short circuit the conventional circuits of politicking. And
their act showed the power of nom-violent direct action when creatively

2. Their act was magnified not only by TV but more importantly by a web of
social networks throughout the south that enabled the sit in to be
replicated hundreds of times by tens of thousands of young people within a
short time. Beneath the radar of mass media attention, the black communities
of the south had been constructing any number of ways to connect and

3. The sit-ins created a white student movement in parallel. Because the
sit-ins occurred in southern franchises of mational chain stores, many of us
in northern cities and college towns could picket our local branches of
these chains. The sympathetic picketimg of Woolworths and Kresges was the
occasion for socially concerned white kids to meet each other--ad from these
meetings the white student new left was born.

4. it wasn't just the chance to meet but the moral imperative tht southern
injustice placed on relatively privileged white studemts that impelled such
new commitment. And it ws the example, the suffering and the apparent purity
of the southern students that inspired us further.
if there is any single act that made 'the sixties' possible--i.e. that made
it posssible for a lot of young people to believe that the world coild be
changed through our own self-action and creativity, it was the sit-in in
Greensboro on 2/1/60 that served.

Dick's Mission

Dick Flacks here...sociology professor emeritus at UCSB. Budget cuts mean
that I can't continue my annual course on political sociology. Maybe a blog
will be a space for me to continue to ruminate and pontificate. And maybe
(as a veteran teacher on these matters) I can offer some ways of thinking
about what's happening nationally and locally that will be useful, as we
struggle to make sense of the tortured complexities of these times. I've
been a leftwing activist for more than 50 years. What we've been struggling
for all these years is full democracy--to increase the opportunities for
people to have real voice in the decisions that affect them. Step by step
over these years we've made some gain...but it is a long march, and one that
never ends. The big barrier to democracy in our society is the concentrated
power of corporations. At the same time, democracy is undermined by the felt
powerlessness of people in their daily lives--the persistent belief that our
problems are only our own personal concern. It's a strong cultural
theme--such individualism--constantlly reinforced by mass media and everyday
circumstance. But the current big crisis of the economy maybe makes it more
possible for more people to understand that we've got to have social reform
and economic reform. So my writing here is aimed at helping us figure out
what to think and act on that so that we can hope for new democratic
possibilities. WE'll be talking about the local and the national. The blog
name comes from an old labor union hymn: Step by step the longest march can
be won. Many stones can form an arch...singly none.

And by union what we will can be accomplished still. Drops of water turn a
mill, singly none, singly none. For 27 years I've had a weekly radio show on
KCSB (91.9 fm. It's called the Culture of Protest. It's comes
from my fascination with music and social movements. I collect 'political'
and 'protest' music and that's what we play each week (Thursdays 6-7 pm). So
sometimes here we'll share and talk about that. I'm worried about one thing
about the blogosphere. And that's the way that some people use the blog
comment space for anonymous nastiness. I'm sick of the kind of political
blather that assaults the motives of others, and sees dark conspiracy behind
every thing one doesn't like. This kind of stuff is helping to poison the
political atmosphere. So I'm going to strive for a civil tone to whatever
interaction may happen on this blogsite.

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