Activism and the limits of moral suasion


in History, Politics, Psychology, The environment

As radical an organization as SNCC had always been, its modus operandi had remained but an aggressive variation on the “petition the masters” strategy. Its approach depended upon the federal government’s willingness to respond to “moral suasion,” albeit of a forceful sort. Events in Mississippi had undermined SNCC’s confidence in such a strategy. But it was the convention challenge that foreclosed this strategic option once and for all. In the eyes of the SNCC leadership, the Northern liberal elite had finally shown its true colors; moral force had proven no match for raw political power.

It was one thing to come to this conclusion, quite another to know how to act on it. Having based their entire operation on a politics of personal witness, the SNCC leadership faced enormous obstacles in trying to devise a new tactical agenda. If moral suasion had not worked, what would? Stokely Carmichael’s call for “black power” some two years later was as much a rhetorical symbol of the organization’s failure to resolve this dilemma as it was a real solution to the problem. In the face of impotence, one boasts of potency.

Ironically, then, it was Freedom Summer and the MFDP challenge—the crowning glory of SNCC’s existential style—that exposed the limits of the approach and left the organization in a quandary as to how to proceed. Efforts to resolve the dilemma would embroil the organization in almost continuous controversy for the remainder of its short life.

McAdam, Doug. Freedom Summer. Oxford University Press; Oxford. 1988. p. 121–2

Obviously this has huge relevance to the contemporary climate change activist movement, which is similarly confronted with ineffectiveness and riven by disagreement on how to proceed in response.

Report a typo or inaccuracy

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Previous post: