The Corner

Re: Re: Riots as Protests

Andy, there are certainly American cases, like ACORN’s predecessor, NWRO, and its work with Frances Fox Piven, where your point would hold quite well. And I share your concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood. But Ken Livingstone wasn’t in the trenches as an organizer stirring up anger in the districts of London that exploded. Also, once Obama got to Project Vote, he really did want to channel anger into productive electoral paths. He liked Reverend Wright precisely because Wright stirred congregations to action with his wild sermons. But for Obama, the point was to get that passion turned toward electoral politics.

Yes, Obama was a big supporter of Alinskyite polarization as a way to increase voter registration and political pressure. That’s why Project Vote worked in tandem with ACORN’s campaign against the banks. But riots were not a tactic for community organizers in the eighties or nineties. Early Piven was too hard-core for most community organizers by then. Even ACORN never totally adopted her program, which at first opposed any electoral efforts at all in favor of rabble rousing. Finally, even Piven came around to the need to combine her (non-riotous) polarization techniques with voter registration drives.

So neither Obama nor Livingstone were ever much interested in using, much less encouraging, rioting. But when an object lesson that powerful comes along of its own accord, it tempts folks on the left to argue that the surest way to social peace is expansion of the welfare state. So I’d stick with what I said below. Obama was never interested in rioting as a tactic, although he wasn’t above invoking it as an object lesson for political purposes in 1992, after it came along unexpectedly.

Psychobabble is a problem, but movements do go through changes that make a difference, even if they’re not always permanent or complete. Egypt’s Salafists may have disarmed, but I think their real goals — and willingness to revert to violence — have changed very little. Parts of the American Left have changed to a greater degree.  The sixties are gone, and revolution is so beyond the horizon that some real shifts have occurred.

Stanley Kurtz — Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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