Last week, Rush Limbaugh, asked a question of civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis: “If a lot of African-Americans back in the ’60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma? If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?”
Rep. Lewis responded to this question via press release.
“Our goal in the Civil Rights Movement was not to injure or destroy but to build a sense of community, to reconcile people to the true oneness of all humanity,” said Rep. John Lewis. “African Americans in the 60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence. Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means. We took a stand against an unjust system, and we decided to use this faith as our shield and the power of compassion as our defense.
“And that is why this nation celebrates the genius and the elegance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and philosophy. Through the power of non-violent action, Dr. King accomplished something that no movement, no action of government, no war, no legislation, or strategy of politics had ever achieved in this nation’s history. It was non-violence that not only brought an end to legalized segregation and racial discrimination, but Dr. King’s peaceful work changed the hearts of millions of Americans who stood up for justice and rejected the injury of violence forever.”
Lets follow Limbaugh’s thinking through. What would have happened if one of the civil rights marchers had shot an Alabama State Patrolman? It might have ended the entire Civil Rights movement then and there. The whole point was non-violence. Every time a protester was injured or jailed without resistance his side gained the moral high ground. Martin Luther King Jr. went to extraordinary lengths to ensure violence did not occur on the side of the protesters. The type of resistance Limbaugh suggested, lethal self-defense, was the antithesis of King’s entire strategy, not to mention his moral philosophy.
Perhaps this silly question by a shock-jock can enlighten us in the way the opposing sides think. Perhaps one side looks at guns via the lens of the American revolution, where the myth of armed civilians fighting tyranny is a pervasive one. The other side might be more influenced by non-violent political movements, like the Civil Rights struggles of the 60’s or Ghandi’s non-violent protests against the British.
What do you think? When is violence acceptable when attempting political reforms in the modern world?