I mean, from today’s perspective it all seems so straightforward, doesn’t it? Show the nation images of children in Birmingham being attacked by policemen with clubs and fire hoses and bull dogs, and from the resulting outrage would perforce come change. I’m not saying that it was easy: I can barely imagine the courage it must have required to take that first step from Kelly Ingram Park onto the street.
But the thing is, back then, the evildoers didn’t understand the power of the media or of dissembling. In the last fifty years they have learned subtlety. They have learned to cozen and to distract and to manipulate; and they have learned, when those don’t work, to corrupt and cow the media so that even the worst of their hubris is presented as one side of a balanced argument. I think there’s very little more insidious in the world than the idea of a balanced argument. How do you balance the truth? Well, you can’t. So in order to maintain balance you have to toss truth out on its ass. Some people think the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was inappropriate and insufficient. Other people disagree. How is that any different from saying that some people think segregation is necessary to maintain the order of society because black people are inferior to white people in intelligence and in character, but other people disagree? And then you put it on TV and call it an objective report, because if you tried to upset the status quo you might find yourself replaced tomorrow by somebody more tractable.
And in the fifties and sixties, the civil rights movement drew an almost inconceivable strength from the belief in a righteous God. Today the evildoers have managed to twist religion so thoroughly to their own ends that it’s difficult to allow God onto your side, because if our leaders–regardless of political affiliation–have reduced Him to a tool to help them maintain power, how can you believe He’ll be of any help in the fight for justice?
I guess my point is: to me, in 2008, the weapons of righteousness in the movement led by Dr. King and his allies seem to have been powerful weapons and easily discernible ones. And today those weapons have been rendered useless, and no matter how hard I try I can’t think of what on earth might replace them.