On a warm September morning a young girl stood at the bus stop, textbooks in hand, waiting to make the trek to a new school. Already nervous, full of anxious anticipation about entering a place she was not familiar; she also dealt with an overwhelming sense of fear. Fear, not of the unknown or if she could handle the educational workload -- she was one of the top students at her old school; but, fear of what stared her in the face -- a loud, angry crowd willing to do or say anything to keep her out of Central High School's front door. Elizabeth Eckford was one of nine black students who would brave the taunts and threats of citizens and the city council for the right to be educated. Eckford recalled as she walked toward the school and the Arkansas National Guard standing in her way, "Somebody started yelling, 'Lynch her! Lynch her!' I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd — someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me." The image of her, head down surrounded by a terrifying group of mothers afraid of the change she represented is etched in the American memory. The mob won that day, but the students, with the help of the 101st Airborne, finally entered that school and changed the way students are educated in this country.
On a cold February afternoon, four students sat at a Woolsworth lunch counter and asked to be served. They were told no, but they returned the next day and the next day and the next, asking the same question, "can we be served." But each day they returned to the downtown Greensboro counter, the mob met them. Joe McNeil recalled, "they spat on us, our food, called us Nigger and told us to go back to Africa." But they were not deterred from their quest. They helped launch similar movements across the country and inspired the "Freedom Riders" and eventually they changed the way people are served in restaurants and in public places in this country.
In the history of the Civil Rights movement the theme of advancement and change being met by the Mob is scattered throughout. While Justice and Fairness won far more battles than they lost, the time-line is filled with casualties. Between 1860 and 1960 it is estimated some 5,000 African-Americans were lynched by raging mobs. The stain of the strange fruit is a vivid reminder of what happens when the mob ultimately wins. For the Mob isn't looking for fairness and justice, it seeks merely to achieve a narrow goal -- relief from the fear change may bring -- at any costs.
That is why Americans watching the You-tube videos of Health care Town Halls occurring across the country this month, should be concerned. These citizens have been described as organized corporate peons, meting out an agenda that is anti-reform. Others have called them concerned citizens with a worry over what reforms may mean to them. Whether either of those descriptions is true, is beyond the point. The point is they are there not to gain information but to completely shut down the debate, shout down the issues and merely make their point with no regard or respect of any other point of view. They would rather lynch the topic, rather than debate the concerns rationally and logically. That is just as un-american as turning away nine students or berating four young men. And, because of that, they should be called a "mob" just as those during the 60s were called, mobs.
Many of these groups have gone to the fringe; hanging one Congressman in effigy; Federal authorities are investigating a death threat on another; and scattered in many of these forums are people holding signs calling President Obama a Nazi and congressional representatives devils. This is not a sign of reasonable dialog or democracy at work -- this is brewing anarchy.
In the proverbial marketplace of ideas everyone's views and opinions are allowed in, whether they are intellectually defined or illogically formed. Society will ultimately discard those it disagrees with and embrace the others -- that is what happens when the citizenry is informed and engaged. But in these "Recess Roastings" as some conservatives are gleefully calling them, the marketplace of ideas is being destroyed because no information is being allowed in. No one should be applauding this outcome and no one should be embracing this tactic -- if they love the idea of American Democracy.
There are plenty of concerns and worries to be expressed over a fundamental shift in the way health-care is delivered in this country. There is an enormous amount of questions to be asked of our political leaders -- many deserve immediate answers and they should be demanded to give them.
But when the mob directs the questioning, history has shown that someone is often left hanging from a tree. Let's all hope that this time Democracy won't be the next victim.
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