A bunch of right-wing protesters organized by Karl Rove, repeating the tactics they used successfully to stop the Miami-Dade vote count — shoving, noise-making, and intimidation just this side of violence — managed to disrupt a fund-raiser for Sen John Edwards, the Democrat most feared by the White House in 2004. And they’re bragging about it. (*) (*)
I’m expecting a storm of protest from the entire Left Blogosphere. This sort of thing is intolerable.
Why shouldn’t these rioters be charged under the 1868 Civil Rights Act for criminal conspiracy to deprive people of their civil rights? Isn’t organizing to support a candidate a central civil right? If Ashcroft’s Justice Department won’t act, the Democrats in Congress should demand a special prosecutor. The time to stop this nonsense is right now. Does Atrios have this yet?
Huh? What’s that you say? That wasn’t a bunch of Freepers? That crowd was anti-Bush? Then what the @$%&$%^* did they think they were doing?
Oh, okay, I see. Anti-war protest. Right.
Very important to run our weakest candidate against Bush. Sure. That’ll show him!
Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Yeah, I remember they always used to try to damage their friends and help their enemies. Certainly. How else do you build a movement?
Uh-huh. Freedom of speech, of course. First Amendment and all that. Oh, absolutely! Definitely covers disrupting someone else’s attempt at political organizing, convincing him he needs a police escort to get out safely, and then calling him “cowardly” for accepting one.
And there’s no better way to show good faith than meeting with someone in the afternoon and then denouncing him in the evening for refusing to meet with you. That’s a great excuse for busting up his little soiree. I never would have suggested otherwise.
If the Republicans do this stuff to the Democrats, it’s criminal, but if left-wing Democrats do it to Democrats who might get elected, that’s just fine. Right, right! Who could doubt such convincing logic?
Never mind. Thanks for the lesson. Sorry I asked.
Update Atrios isn’t pleased; he took the above as a criticism of him for not having mentioned the fund-raiser affair, which he correctly notes he had no reason to have heard of. My bad. I was merely trying to reproduce the sort of post I and others would have written had this in fact been a GOP activity, and of course “Where’s Atrios on this?” would have been a natural question.
Atrios then adds two points, both of which seem right to me: 1) this sort of stuff is generally bad and 2) what happened in NC wasn’t really comparable to the Florida riot, either in intent or in impact. (I didn’t say it was; I said it used the same tactics.)
Some of Atrios’s commenters — those who aren’t hyperventilating — point out that the accounts I relied on, while sympathetic to the protest, might also have been … overenthusiastic … in their accounts. Some who were there report that no actual disruption took place. All I can say about that is, “No harm, no foul.” If it didn’t really happen, then it wasn’t really bad. I relied on what I read. My criticism wasn’t intended to apply to those who were merely holding signs; I don’t endorse your political judgment but I have no ethical criticism to make, and insofar as my sources misled me about what actually happened I owe you an apology.
Aside from the specifics of this case, there’s a more general argument going on here, where I wind up on the other side from people such as Max Sawicky (whose work I generally respect). One group thinks that, in general, anyone who has a strong political point to make is morally entitled to disrupt the lawful activities of other people in order to help make that point.
Those other people might be doing something of which the protester disapproves, such as working for a company that supports a nasty regime that lets them drill for oil, or running an abortion clinic, or holding a fundraiser for a candidate who has done something to displease the protesters. Or those other people may simply be trying to drive home past the intersection where the protesters have decided to lie down and block traffic. This is called “nonviolent direct action” (and, when it breaks the law, as it sometimes does, “civil disobedience”) and is supposed to reflect the tradition of Gandhi and King.
In my view, the nonviolent direct action practiced by Gandhi and King was legitimized only by the extraordinary circumstances in which they found themselves. Gandhi was fighting a war for independence, and King was leading a revolution. In neither case, for different reasons, was the ballot box open as a means of recourse. Nonviolent direct action was justified as an alternative to violence in situations too bad to be endured and not changeable by the ordinary means of politics.
When the ballot box is open, the presumption ought to be that the primary means of making change is organization and persuasion. If a big rally ties up traffic as an unavoidable side effect of gathering a large crowd, that might be chalked up to “collateral damage.” But I don’t think that righteous wrath over a bad political outcome justifies a deliberate decision to disrupt traffic in order to punish citizens for the actions of their elected officials, annoy the authorities in hopes of provoking an extreme response from them that will gain you sympathy, or merely express one’s annoyance and get some media attention.
And I don’t think that my disapproval of your activity should give me some sort of moral license to “protest” in a way that deliberately inflicts costs on your operation other than by withdrawing my support by a boycott and making other you and other people aware of my disapproval.
It’s so much easier for human beings to damage one another than it is for them to help one another (or themselves) — someone who couldn’t earn a million dollars in a lifetime of work can destroy a million dollars’ worth of property with a trivial amount of effort — that we need strong rules (norms as well as laws) that make doing damage taboo, except in extraordinary circumstances. One way to remember that, in the face of the anger that political conflict generates, is to imagine that the damage in question were being done to you, or to someone you sympathize with, by someone you detest.
That’s the little mindfulness practice I was trying to show the war protesters. Given the fury of some of the comments, it appears that I succeeded, at least in part. No, there’s no need to thank me; just pass the favor forward to someone else.
Second update here.