civil disobedience

When she joined a “swim-in” in St. Augustine, Florida on June 18, 1964, then 17-year-old Mamie Nell Ford had little idea that her picture would soon be seen around the world – and help spur the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. On that day, seven civil rights activists, including Ford, jumped into the segregated pool at the Monson Motor Lodge to protest its ‘whites-only’ policy. As journalists looked on, the motel owner’s James Brock responded by dumping acid into the pool in an effort to drive them out. Ford recalls that her immediate reaction was “I couldn’t breathe,” and a photo of her with an alarmed expression as Brock pours acid nearby appeared in newspapers around the world. When people learn about the incident today, Ford says, “I’m often asked, ‘How could you have so much courage?’ Courage for me is not ‘the absence of fear,’ but what you do in the face of fear.”

The campaign to challenge segregation in St. Augustine in 1963 and 1964, known as the St. Augustine Movement, is considered one of the bloodiest of the Civil Rights Movement. Students staging “wade-ins” to challenge segregation on the beaches were violently beaten and, after several black children were admitted into white schools due to the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing school segregation, several of the children’s homes were burnt to the ground by local segregationists. Martin Luther King, Jr. was even arrested on the steps of this same motel only a week prior to the pool “swim-in,” after being charged with trespassing when he attempted to dine at the “whites-only” Monson Restaurant.

Prior to the pool “swim-in”, Ford was already an experienced civil rights activist in her hometown of Albany, Georgia. When Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Albany to recruit activists to support the movement in St. Augustine, she immediately signed up. “When they asked for volunteers to participate in the swim-in demonstration, I said, yes, because, despite segregation, I knew how to swim,” she says. While they knew it was likely they would be arrested, no one expected the owner to pour acid into the pool. “It is as fresh in my mind as the morning dew, because when the acid was poured in the pool, the water began to bubble up,” Ford recalls. Although the group was arrested shortly thereafter, their protest had the intended effect: as it made headlines worldwide, President Johnson said in a recorded phone conservation: “Our whole foreign policy will go to hell over this!” Within 24 hours, the civil rights bill that had been introduced a year before and had been stalled in the Senate won approval, leading directly to the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After being released from serving jail time for the swim-in, Ford made a powerful statement urging the people of St. Augustine to keep fighting: “Don’t lose heart now because you’re the ones on whom this movement rests. People will come and go because they live somewhere else, but you live here and you make this thing happen.” She returned home and went on to join five other black girls to lead the desegregation of the formerly all-white Albany High School, where she graduated with honors in 1965. Ford, who later changed her name to Mimi Jones, then went to college in Boston where she spent her career working in the Department of Education.

Although less well known than school segregation, the long legacy of segregation in swimming pools still lives on today. After legal challenges and actions like this one in St. Augustine forced the end of segregated pools, in many towns, especially in the South, ‘white flight’ from public pools to private clubs often led to their closure. The impact of first segregation and later pool closures over generations has led to a major gap between white and black Americans in swimming ability, with whites being twice as likely to know how to swim as blacks. This difference is also reflected in the CDC finding that black children are three times more likely die from drowning than white children. For these reasons and the long legacy of racism at swimming pools, Simone Manuel’s victory at the last Olympic Games took on special meaning for many African Americans – a significance the young swimmer alluded to after she became the first African-American woman to ever win an individual Olympic gold in swimming: “The gold medal wasn’t just for me,“ she said. "It’s for a lot of people who came before me.”

Picture and text from "A Mighty Girl” on Facebook
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.
—  Howard Zinn
We associate civil disobedience with grand protest movements. But it is quite simply the active and non-violent refusal of rules and norms that are unjust. And so I am here to say that when the rules create inequality, disobey the rules.
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Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate Battle Flag at the South Carolina State Capitol

“We removed the flag today because we can’t wait any longer. We can’t continue like this another day. It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”

- Brittany/Bree Newsome

Emma Goldman (June 27, 1869 – May 14, 1940) was an anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

Born in Kovno, Russian Empire (present-day Kaunas, Lithuania), Goldman emigrated to the United States in 1885. Attracted to anarchism after the Haymarket affair, Goldman became a writer and a renowned lecturer on anarchist philosophy, women’s rights, and social issues, attracting crowds of thousands. She and anarchist writer Alexander Berkman, her lover and lifelong friend, planned to assassinate industrialist and financier Henry Clay Frick as an act of propaganda of the deed. Frick survived the attempt on his life in 1892 and Berkman was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Goldman was imprisoned several times in the years that followed, for “inciting to riot” and illegally distributing information about birth control. In 1906, Goldman founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth.

In 1917, Goldman and Berkman were sentenced to two years in jail for conspiring to “induce persons not to register” for the newly instated draft. After their release from prison, they were arrested—along with hundreds of others—and deported to her native Russia. Initially supportive of that country’s Bolshevik revolution, Goldman reversed her opinion in the wake of the Kronstadt rebellion and denounced the Soviet Union for its violent repression of independent voices. In 1923, she published a book about her experiences, My Disillusionment in Russia. While living in England, Canada, and France, she wrote an autobiography called Living My Life. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she traveled to Spain to support the anarchist revolution there. She died in Toronto on May 14, 1940, aged 70.

During her life, Goldman was lionized as a free-thinking “rebel woman” by admirers, and denounced by detractors as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality. Although she distanced herself from first-wave feminism and its efforts toward women’s suffrage, she developed new ways of incorporating gender politics into anarchism. After decades of obscurity, Goldman’s iconic status was revived in the 1970s, when feminist and anarchist scholars rekindled popular interest in her life.

If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one’s country, one’s fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.
—  Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy
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Looking back on the year, it’s hard to know what to feel. Powerful momentum. Staggering losses. Twelve months later we are collectively in a place that we’ve never been before. Exciting and scary as hell. There is no way to know what to expect.

One thing is certain. We aren’t finished yet.

Photos by Robyn Beck, Chip Somodevilla, Kristian Buus, Marlin Olynyk, Hubert Libiszewski, Kena Betancur, Sandy Huffaker and Spencer Platt.

The Sound of Protest: The Personal Audio

When it comes to getting the word out during civil protest and incidents of disobedience, or even when you just need to get a lot of people to hear you, the go to has been something like above. 

Most people when they have something to say and need to say it on the move aren’t audio engineering experts and don’t have the access to funds or the crews to build massive PA’s. So, they reach for the nearest and easiest thing: The bullhorn.

The design hasn’t changed much from ancient times when someone would shout into a cone. Aside from adding a microphone, speaker and amplifier with a battery pack, the principle is just the same: Sound is directed through the horn towards the audience. It sounds amplified because you are forcing the sound pressure wave in a direction by using the sides of the cone.  Modern bullhorns boost this with a speaker being powered by either a alkaline or lithium battery pack, and some have separate handheld mics to speak into.

And, they are pretty affordable relatively speaking. Mini ones go from $15 all the way to $150 for the fancy heavy duty versions. And they are very user friendly.

But, these… suck.

They distort badly, have relatively weak batteries and when you are holding one, it doesn’t make it very easy to walk around without being noticed. And sometimes, you really DON’T want to broadcast what you are going to do else someone else tries to stop you before you get there. They create the image of a “trouble maker” and baby boomer politicians love stereotypes and triggers to use as an excuse to put down a person’s voice.

But, there is a new and even better way:  The Bluetooth battery speaker

This is just an example (not an endorsement) of what has become the underdog of public address. These little speakers can pump out audio quality that was unheard of 10 years ago, and with lithium batteries can last 5 to 10 hours depending on the model. One unit I own fits in the palm of my hand, but can produce volume so loud that I can hear it at 65dB (decibels) in another room across a 1200 ft/sq apartment with the doors closed!

And, they are lightweight.  Bullhorns are heavy and cumbersome.  A Bluetooth speaker can fit in the palm of your hand and blast out everything from protest music and pre-recorded chants to your own voice (By using a microphone to speaker app on your phone, where your phone is the handheld speaker). The volume is loud and many speakers on the market have amazing audio quality in such a tiny package.

And the price? I was able to pick up my battery operated Bluetooth speaker for $9 on Amazon.  The price ranges vary, but read reviews. Some are underpowered, but many are incredibly loud for what you see. 

But you can do more than just play music and use it as a microphone source to save your voice. You can weaponize this: Shut down counter protesters and, with others having Bluetooth speakers and a simple app, you can literally shut down someone else’s PA or bullhorn (depending on how many speakers you have working in tandem or the size of your PA)

All you need is your trusty speaker and a tone generator app. I use Function Generator on the iTunes store

Apps like these allow you to play tones and audio signals such as white noise and pink noise through your Bluetooth speaker.  These apps were made for audio engineers to calibrate equipment, but you can use them to disrupt.

One function is by using the frequency generator to play any selected frequency at high volume. Just crank up the volume and use the frequency setting to find the most offensive tone. It can be ear piercing! And, the more power there is, the more dangerous it can be! And, it works with ANY audio output. But be careful! When playing these at high volumes, you can cause permanent hearing damage depending on the power of the amplified speaker, so NEVER point it at you or anyone you don’t wish to hear it.

The other feature is the white noise generator, which plays groups of frequencies to create a sort of masking effect, covering a large swath of frequencies to negate ambient noise. This kind of tone generator is used to help people fall asleep or to tune PA’s, but with many people on their portable Bluetooth speakers playing it or having it played out of a PA system, you can literally negate a counter protester’s bullhorn or voices! This is because two sources of sound cannot exist at the same time. The SPL (or sound pressure level) is literally air pressure, and if you have one source pushing out a frequency that is the same as the other, aimed at one another, they will literally cancel each other out!

The police and military has used these technologies for a while to sedate crowds and to mess with press and media coverage of incidents for decades. But, when you can get 5 or 10 or even 100 people on the same page with the same app, you will find that your voice can be heard for as little as a $10 amazon gift card ,and your vocal cords will thank you!

And, before anyone asks: No, you cannot connect multiple speakers to one phone’s Bluetooth link. Audio in Bluetooth 4.0 and below will only send one stereo signal out from a device at a time, even when you can connect 7 or 8 devices. 

Also, the bonus is that if you are ever stopped on your way to or from a protest or incident of civil unrest, a Bluetooth speaker in a backpack is common. A bullhorn is not.