mad in pursuit journal


Mississippi Burning

Last night we watched "Mississippi Burning" (1988), with Gene Hackman. Great movie that I'd never seen. Young civil rights workers are killed in a small Mississippi town and the FBI descends on it.

The FBI leader is a young activist (Willem Dafoe) who assumes the colored folks will be happy to see him. But he doesn't understand the culture like his southern sidekick Hackman does. His righteousness provokes the Ku Klux Klan into destroying any black person who talks to the FBI. It reminded me of Bush liberating Iraq without understanding the cultural firestorm he kicked off. Why aren't these people sending us flowers?

The movie also reminded me how disturbing hatred is. Most of us have our routine prejudices and areas of intolerance, but others really feed on their own venom. They get all lathered up about anyone different from themselves and anyone who might threaten their precious way of life. To me, these KKK types are the ugliest people on the planet — the big ignorant schoolyard bullies.

We've made some progress since the days when KKKs were burning crosses on people's lawns, but new challenges are ahead. Some people are getting whipped into a froth over Mexicans. Jim said he saw where some Aryan Nation types were getting active on those volunteer border patrols. Oy...

So where does this lead me on my thinking about non-violence? "Mississippi Burning" made the point that the passivity of the southern blacks wasn't getting them anywhere. They needed some clever Feds to finally shake things up. The liberating cowboy Fed on his white horse wound up stoking the violence, even though he was non-violent himself. It took a clever (but fairly violent) strategy on Hackman's part to "get the rattlesnakes to start committing suicide."

This makes me think that a "non-violent response" in the political world does not mean humble passivity. You need to counter the violence with intelligence and strategy. The schoolyard bully must be revealed to the world and stripped of his bully-tools (fear? secrecy?). I think it's knowing what actions to take and what media to have on hand when you take it. Was this the secret to Gandhi's success? He knew how to mobilize the PR?



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