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June 17, 2014 7:28 AM   Subscribe


 
Freedom Summer was driven by students, largely due to the bubble (excess?) of kids post-war, and I don't see anything resembling a youth revolution right now, just the opposite the mood is towards more conformity. This year is more like 1934 not 1964.
posted by stbalbach at 7:46 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Will there be an app for it? How will anyone know when and where to protest if it's not crowdsourced?
posted by sammyo at 8:02 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I was only 3 that summer but a few years ago I got a neat insight into what that must have been like for those kids and their families back up north.

I found a folded up piece of paper on top of one of the beams in the basement workshop of a house I'd just bought, outside Philly. It was a letter from the son of a previous owner, writing his Dad from somewhere in the south. It was dated 1964. I have the letter somewhere but I'm going from memory here. He was trying to keep his folks updated on his well being, and described him and his friends getting arrested by cops for no reason other than being yankees and spending a few hours in jail. It was clear from the tone of his letter that he was not on that trip with his parents' blessing. The letter didn't say exactly where he was or why he was there. Could have been a spring break trip, or something more noble, but...1964.

I always imagine Dad getting that letter and taking it down to the workshop to pre-screen it before Mom saw it, in case the contents were worrying. The verdict was apparently: Jail, huh? Better fold it up, stick it up on top of the beam, and forget about it until somebody finds it 40+ years later.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:40 AM on June 17 [20 favorites]


Freedom Summer was driven by students, largely due to the bubble (excess?) of kids post-war, and I don't see anything resembling a youth revolution right now, just the opposite the mood is towards more conformity. This year is more like 1934 not 1964.

Freedom Summer was driven by a lot of things. Post War prosperity had a lot to do with it - but your analysis discounts the decades long groundwork that had been done by black folks in the south. It was driven by black folks who were done putting up with the reign of terror they had been living under and who had built a cohesive and strategic movement.

It was aided by labor organizers who had won a string of victories after their own decades long struggle and wanted to grow their own movement.

And it was aided by college kids who had leisure and education and a changed culture that allowed them to think about this sort of thing, saw what was going on in the south (thanks to the organizing that black folks were doing) and had the ability to go help.

So the college kids, and the prosperity that enabled them, were helpful, but not key.

I do tend to agree with you that we are not in the same situation today, but I'd say it's more because there is no clear enemy (too much polarization) and all the organizing gains of the early 20th century have been lost, for a variety of reasons.
posted by natteringnabob at 8:45 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]


Well of course it's reductionist to attribute any historical phenomenon to a single cause but the youth movement was key would be missing from a 2014-style Freedom Summer was my point. If it was "key" or not is debatable on the meaning of "key". I would say it would have been impossible without their support, though not exactly how they intended. When the children of middle class whites were being killed in the south it galvanized populist support and attention. According to Wikipedia: "Before Freedom Summer, the national news media had paid little attention to the persecution of black voters in the Deep South and the dangers endured by black civil rights workers. The events that summer had captured national attention (as had the mass protests and demonstrations in previous years). Some black activists felt the media had reacted only because northern white students were killed and felt embittered." Is this true? Well, you decide, but when white middle class college kids from Boston are being murdered in bumtuck Mississippi by illiterate KKK Sheriffs it set off a national firestorm in a way that generations of black lynchings never did.
posted by stbalbach at 9:19 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Jail, huh? Better fold it up, stick it up on top of the beam, and forget about it

A friend of mine was a Freedom Rider. She was awaiting trial in an Alabama courtroom when she opened up a letter from her father she had received that morning. He told her that no one else in the family had ever done anything so disgraceful as being charged with anything and that she was a great disappointment. (She had also married a Jew.) A few years back there was an exhibit, later (I think) ensconced in a museum, about that summer and ex-Freedom Riders were encouraged to send in mementoes. My friend conbtributed her father's hateful letter which was put on display for the world to see. Parents, take heed!
posted by CCBC at 12:50 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


Freedom Summer was driven by students, largely due to the bubble (excess?) of kids post-war, and I don't see anything resembling a youth revolution right now, just the opposite the mood is towards more conformity. This year is more like 1934 not 1964.
posted by stbalbach at 7:46 AM on June 17 [2 favorites +] [!]


I wouldn't be surprised if this is a mix of cynicism (Our parents all stuck their necks out in the 60's, and look how much they accomplished!), and the constant pounding beat of "Everything you do is recorded, and will come back to haunt you forever. Oh, and the NSA has records of everything, just in case you manage to bury it from public eye."
posted by Canageek at 2:02 PM on June 17


I'd add in the notion amongst youth that pressing 'like' on a Facebook page is the same as activism is a contributing factor, Canageek.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:04 PM on June 17


The last time I really felt a palpable sense of mass defiance, even as small as it ultimately was, was in the run-up to the Iraq war protests in 2003; I was 16. Today, it's hard for me to imagine something like the Freedom Summer. I don't know what's wrong with us. I think technology has a lot to do with it, but I'm not sure it's "kids all addicted to their facebooks and their twitters" as has been suggested here. I think Canageek is on to something-- the surveillance infrastructure that we take for granted as constant background noise has a profound effect on citizen action. And why wouldn't it? It's not just surveillance per se but also the way the neoliberal Internet (which is pretty much all of it by now) pushes us to consolidate, codify, and brand ourselves. It's not really possible anymore to be Susan the Mild-Mannered Saleswoman at work and Susan the Righteous Freedom Fighter at the protest. For the most part, you have to choose. Privacy doesn't just give us literal, physical space free from surveillance; it also gives us the psychic space to develop and express our political selves. Further, virtually everything is now in the public record. It's harder to dip your toe into resistance, I think, if you know it's going to indelibly mark you.

Rambling aside: I admire the shit out of all the Civil Rights-era activists. Their courage seems almost unfathomable to me.
posted by threeants at 8:07 PM on June 17


To illuminate that difference, it's hard for me not to juxtapose that movement with the present-day queer rights movement, the two of which are often compared morally if not historically. It seems to me that all of the major victories for BTGL* equality have been routed through institutional channels-- petitions, voting, public opinion campaigns, the judiciary. The only real civil disobedience I can think of is a few people authorizing/requesting illegal marriages, but that was pretty small-scale. Note that I am not at all attempting to diminish these activists and the real struggles they have fought hard to win, many of them at great cost-- just pointing out what a different landscape they are working within.

The only large-scale US civil disobedience I can think of in the past 10 years (maybe someone can help me out?) is the Occupy movement's illegal reclamation of public space. That movement left some really interesting and important activist infrastructure behind in a number of cities, but I'm not sure I'd say they really "won" anything on the national scale. (And I do wonder if it intensifies a sense of futility that, for people who don't travel in radical circles, Occupy might as well have vanished off the face of the earth. Again, not blaming them for that.) In terms of individual acts of civil disobedience, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden committed daring acts of defiance that caused them each varying degrees of personal ruin; many support them but where's that movement?

*every time I go for the acronym the political implications of various letter orders STRESS ME THE FUCK OUT so from now on I am going to scramble them literally at random
posted by threeants at 8:27 PM on June 17


Try QUILTBAG. It covers literally everyone who isn't heterosexual, and starts with Q for Queer, which is a really good inclusive umbrella term.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 PM on June 17


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