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Minority Rights Campaigners and the Black American Civil Rights Movement: A Tactical Review

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How far do you agree that minority rights campaigners just copied the tactics of the black American civil rights movement, they did nothing unique?

There were three main minority rights groups fighting for equality in America in the 20th century; Native Americans, Hispanics and Homosexuals. It wasn’t always on the ground of race, it was about unity and changing mindsets to not judge or discriminate people based on race, sexuality, religion etc. The civil rights movement used peaceful protests, boycotts, sit-ins etc. The question if the minority groups were, respectively, unique in their methods of campaigning will be discussed as the tactics they used were very successful and it might have been from inspiration rather than a lack of creativity and unique ideas.

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The tactics used by the black American civil rights movement were a success, such as litigation, civil obedience, economic boycotts, Grassroots organisation, and the use of the media. They had to challenge the use of Jim Crow laws that were being used against them, the use of collective non-violent action to disrupt state activity, non-violent action to disrupt private activity and the rural and urban strategies to build mass movement as well as the private organisation to fund politics actives. However the media is argued to have been the biggest tactic used by the civil rights movement as they were the first movement to coincide with the rise of the mass media.

The Native Americans are the smallest minority group out of the three with only 830,000 Native Americans living in America in the 1960’s-80’s. They believed that considering 22,600,000 black Americans were given the legislative rights they asked for that they could being such a small minority. However the tactics they used were very different and not necessarily successful. The Native Americans used Guerrilla warfare as they were a small population, however they were given minimal support and after 1812 there were no European powers willing to help the Native Americans. Even though generally they weren’t very successful because they had to be peaceful and not fight back aggressively as it would be seen as another excuse to discriminate however the peaceful protests were more unsuccessful than successful. But the Seminoles in Florida escaped to the Everglades, and harassed the Army so much that they were left alone. None of this was used by the black American civil rights movement. However, the American Indian Movement (AIM) did create the notion of ‘Red Power’ which was consciously adopting the direct action techniques of ‘Black Power’ created by the black civil rights movement, nevertheless they did copy the tactics, they also had unique tactics.

The Hispanics were very much seen as the most similar of the minority group campaigners as they were seeking the same/similar changes from the government to legislation to do with their racial equality, whether that be in schooling system and languages, working conditions in the farm plantations, being judged and discriminated based on the colour of their skin and their wages. The tactics they used were led by Cesar Chaves, Dolores Huerta, who were seen as the main leaders in their movement, much like Martin Luther King who went public speaking and leading peaceful protests. They organised the grape boycott, much like the black American civil rights movement had the bus boycott. however this was a labour strike by the Agricultural Workers Organisation Committee and the United Farm Workers against grape growers in California, the strike began in 1965 and ended in 1970. Grape growers signed their first union contracts, granting workers better pay, benefits and protections in 1970. So to jump upon the conclusion that the Hispanics copied the black American civil rights movement methods of successful boycotts would be inaccurate as the approach to the actual boycott itself was different as of course they didn’t protest for the same thing and boycotts were being used long before the black American civil rights movement. The Hispanics also took the approach of peaceful non-violent protests but just like Malcolm X, Rodolfo Gonzales came to favour a more radical approach to racial identity and self-determination whereby most action

was caused by the urban youth groups which had contacts with the black power movement. There were many similarities between the Hispanic minority group moment and the black American civil rights movement such as not abiding by the law to get attention, speeches around America for their cause and constant protests for equality based on the grounds of race. But they also used their own tactics such as their use of entertainment to spread their word, they set up a theatre group where they would educate people about their rights and their campaign. Therefore it would be inaccurate to say they did nothing unique.

Homosexuals were a different type of minority group because there aims were not on the grounds of race but equality of sexuality which is something a lot of people don’t understand if they haven’t experienced it. Sexuality is not as simple as race because it’s not something than be visually identified easily and differs from one person to another — as an ‘invisible’ race there fight for the desensitisation of social norms is considered to be have been harder than any other minority group to have received some sort of equality. The Gay Liberation Front was set up and a sudden rush of large, peaceful protests for gay and rights and against gay oppression were organised. As early as 1977, polls suggested that over 50% of people believed in gay rights. However, groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were very hostile towards homosexuals, especially in the Southern states and this has been apparent through African Americans as they were victimised by the Ku Klux Klan as well. According to Todd Abercrombie “African American Civil Rights movement and gay men;s identification with blacks provided a framework for conceiving of themselves as a community and as an oppressed minority” which is perhaps why they used similar methods of protest was because they felt they related to the black American civil rights movement and they needed to use the same successful methods to have success within their own movement. Lesbians and gays were urged to publicly reveal their sexuality to family, friends and colleagues as a form of activism, and to counter shame with gay pride whereby Harvey Milk, who was the first outwardly gay man to be elected to local government. The homosexual movement took a unique way of the previous methods use such as sit-ins, they had a ‘sip-in’ at a bar that refused to serve ‘gays’, whereby the New York City Commission on human rights ruled it as a human right for homosexuals to be served. They also used marches and demonstrations frequently and still do to this day as a landmark for their unity, these marches although were used by the black American civil rights movement have been used throughout history long before the black American civil rights movement, because they are successful.

To asses whether the minority group campaigners were unique is to assess whether the use of the word ‘just’ is appropriate. The minority group that is questioned to have used the tactics the most from the civil rights movement is the Hispanics, and they were successful in their movement, so it could be argued that they saw the successes of the black civil right movement and repeated their methods because it would benefit them. Moreover, the black civil rights movement didn’t invent the tactics they used, peaceful protests have been alive for hundreds of years and it could be argued that the black civil rights movement copied the likes of Ghandi and other peaceful protesters and activists —the Hispanic rights group could have also been taking inspiration from Ghandi and the black civil rights movement.

Therefore, it is clear that the minority group campaigners did use unique tactics such as nonviolent protests, or the form of campaigns of civil resistance aimed at achieving change through nonviolent forms of resistance. In some situations, they have been accompanied, or followed, by civil unrest and armed rebellion. Many of these movements did not, or have yet to, fully achieve their goals, although the efforts of these movements have led to improvements in the legal rights of some previously oppressed groups of people. The similarities between the movements is a combination of conscious adoption of direct action techniques and the fact that these methods worked and that them ‘copying’ these tactics were based on strategy and success for their cause.

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