The Coming Violence in the Civil Rights Debate

For about a year, I have tried to find a way to bring up the health care debate on this blog, and for about a year, I’ve failed. But today it all fell into place in the most frightening way possible.

Just in the last week before the health care bill passed, the tenor of the debate got even worse than it had been–and it had been pretty bad. The joshua blog has an excellent rundown of the early problems, and I urge you to head over there to find out the dirty details. For my purposes, though, I’ll just give you a list of problems over the last week:

The following words have been hurled at House Representatives:

  • Faggot (Barney Frank)
  • Nigger (John Lewis, Emanuel Cleaver, and André Carson)
  • Wetback (Ciro Rodriguez)
  • Schlomo (Anthony Weiner)

And the problem wasn’t just language.

  • Rep. Weiner’s Schlomo note was signed with a swastika. There was also a reference to gay sex.
  • Rep. Cleaver was spat upon.
  • The crowd thought it was hilarious when a protester taunted Rep. Frank with a fey, lisping affect. Because he’s a homosexual, you know.
  • Majority Whip Jim Clyburn was faxed a drawing of a hangman’s noose.
  • Rep. Bart Stupak has gotten angry voicemails wishing violence and at least one fax that includes the implied death threat of a hangman’s noose with his name on it.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Fax page 1 | Fax page 2

Then there was the threat of gun violence.

  • From professionally made signs:

  • From Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele:

Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Pls see my Facebook page.

Bricks and rocks were thrown through windows of at least five local congressional or party offices:

  • Louise Slaughter’s Niagra Falls, NY office
  • Gabrielle Giffords’ Tuscon, AZ office
  • The Monroe County, NY Democratic Committee office (Slaughter’s district)
  • The Sedgwick County, KS Democratic Party headquarters
  • The Hamilton County, OH Democratic Party headquarters

House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a National Review interview that Rep. Steve Driehaus would be “a dead man” if he voted for the health reform bill. Then a protest group published a picture of Rep. Driehaus with his children in the Cincinnati Enquirer, and another group posted his address online, telling people to go to his house this Sunday.

And then there’s the honest-to-goodness attempted assassination. On Tuesday two teabagger sites posted what they thought to be Rep. Tom Perriello‘s address with an invitation to “drop by”. The address was actually the congressman’s brother’s house (Teabagger’s response: “Oh well, collateral damage.”), and this afternoon he found that someone had sliced the propane line leading into his house. The FBI is investigating the crime as a threat to a member of congress.

EDIT: It turns out that while I was typing away, Rachel Maddow was hitting a lot of the same points on her program. Great minds and all that, you know. Watch it here.


The history books are clear: Violence from the opposition always accompanies major social change. Always. And as Rachel Maddow pointed out on Monday, this is the first major social change that Congress has passed in a very long time. In fact, it’s the first in my lifetime.

The next Big Social Change the country will debate is LGBT rights. ENDA and DADT are headed for major action soon, and you can bet that if they don’t move forward, protests like Get Equal and Lt. Dan Choi staged last Thursday will be swift. If the Supreme Court decides with the Prop 8 trial that civil rights do not extend to LGBT people, the outcry will be thunderous. And now we know firsthand the violent reaction we can expect if it comes to that.

So let me be the one to ask: Are you ready?

Are you ready to stand up for what you believe in, even when violence is aimed at you? Are you ready to step up so we don’t have another generation of soldiers discharged from the military, civilians fired from their jobs, couples separated by outmoded immigration law, and children forced to choose between education and safety?

I mentioned Rep. John Lewis earlier; he was arrested over 40 times in the 1960s for his civil rights activism. It wasn’t popular then. He didn’t get a gushing editorial in the newspaper during the Freedom Rides. He didn’t get a hero’s welcome in his hometown after an Alabama highway patrolman stomped his head bloody at a march from Selma to Montgomery. But he came back two days later and he did it again, and then again after that.

This is not a theoretical question anymore: Are you ready to take that step?

Are you?

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