“Conclusion: Violence and Social Change in the U.S. ”
(Teaching notes for final lecture in History 219, delivered at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, 1992-1995)
(My teaching style consists on consulting notes in the following manner. I write down specific ideas and events as a guide in my notes, including historical detail. As I stand in front of the class, I ad-lib, improvise based on the notes. I never just read the notes to the class. I think the notes out in front of the class, with links to previous lectures.)
Summing Up – The past and the future
The “consensus” model: Does it hold?
Is violence Un-American?
How does recognition of violence in U.S. past inform our view of American society and politics?
In early 1960s, the “consensus” model dominates U.S. popular culture and academic analysis.
US, unlike most other nations, characterized by shared social and political values;
Americans had a special genius/character to resolve disputes by compromise, w /o violence
Little violence in US
No longer adequate; U.S. violence is diverse and persisting:
a) must recognize slavery as a social system based on violence and fear of violence;
no Western “democratic” nation had enslaved so many people for so long;
4 million in 1860 (how many millions before?);
a famous consensus book, Hofstadter, “The American Political Tradition”
ignores slavery completely
b) history of westward expansion from 1600s to 1800s –
history of subjugation of Native Americans
pushed off their lands;
treaties w/ US gov’t. broken
forced onto Reservations
c) racial, ethnic & religious – violence from the beginning
Puritans v. Puritans (Ann Hutchinson, Roger Williams)
Puritans v. Catholics (Maryland)
Puritans v. Quakers (Boston)
Protestants v. Catholics
anti-Catholic sentiment (19th century, WASPs, Protestant nativism)
anti-Chinese (California 1850s, 1870s)
anti-Mexican riots – west – WWII
inter ethnic conflict in neighborhoods – even among Catholics
Poles v. Italians
Korean v. African-Americans
other recent examples
anti-black riots – 1870s South to 1919 Red Summer
race riots – 1930s, 1960s, 1990s
1980s Hispanic-Cuban, Florida
d) Violence during the Am. Rev.
kick the British out
violence against Loyalists who opposed the Am. Rev.
e) resistance against the early U.S. gov’t. actions
Shay’s Rebellion – farmers, ex-soldiers worried land confiscation
Whiskey Rebellion – tax
f) labor violence –
based in strikes and management disputes
attacks on scabs;
Conflict w/ law enforcement trying to disperse crowds;
police protecting private property and commerce
evicting sit-down strikers (1930s)
g) more men than women engage in social violence. Why?
Female examples -- in labor disputes (as strikers and as sympathetic in community groups);
--temperance efforts 1830s, 1870s
Carry Nation and sit-downs in salons, 2000, west
attack on private property
--1950s & 1960s & since – gender composition of protestors more evenly balanced than ever before.
--Rosa Parks and women—early civil rights rights mobilization
Scholars find that during protests, women often more militant than men.
h) 1960s upsurge – new scale for the U.S.
6 million people
renewed tradition of peoples’ protests in the streets
i) anti-war protests (1776-1990)
j) anti- anti-protest violence significant
esp. racial question
abolitionists attacked in the 1830s & 1840s
(those who speak out against slavery)
KKK & civil rights activists in 1950s & ‘60s
(meaning of racial equality v. civil rights)
attacks on anti-war protestors
k) tremendous fear of subversion by U.S. gov’t. and FBI in 20th century.
surveillance in national security state
active disruption during COINTELPRO era
Govt. Red Sacres, 1919 and 1950s (periodical or permanent?)
Has the FBI Really Changed?
l) assasination attempts on ¼ presidents
several dozen other attempts, elected officials,
not all political motives
m) overseas coercive expansion -- imperialism
esp. 1890-1920 era
Have other nations been plagued by social violence?
Yes – India Muslim-Hindu conflict,
last 3 riots – 700 killed,
worst since late 1940s
--high level of racial conflict
--most labor violence during late 19th century of any industrial nation
--most civil disobedience of western nations in 1960s
(though not necessarily the most deadly)
U.S. “peaceful transition of power” also more firmly planted than in other nations.
little violence at election time despite voting irregularities
Legacy of ‘60s: democratic culture and credibility gap
More people resort to nonviolent protest than ever before – wide variety of issues
Protest considered legitimate, part of a democratic culture.
racial equality & justice
gay and lesbian issues
(Protest not limited to U.S.
effect in Western Europe also
demonstrations are effective and legitimate part of the political process)
Gender dimension: 1960s & since – female protest participation broadens (Gurr neglects)
Changing roles of women in society -- as women have more active role in society outside the home.
They saw protest as legitimate activity for them beyond issues involving moral reform (anti-prostitution, temperance, 19th century) or suffrage (1890s-1920) or labor strikes (1906-9, 1912, 1930s)
Why things sometimes appear more “peaceful” than they are –
as individuals & as societies, we often “forget”/repress painful experiences;
encouraged by gov’t. leaders & by mass consumer society – “historical amnesia”
(who in popular consciousness still remembers the 1992 L.A. riots (or thinks about the conditions which provoked them?)
(will Americans worry about or care about Somolia in a month?)
With so much violence in U.S. history – regular episodes – is it a myth to assert that violence is “Un-American”? –
rare occurrences by deviant or subversive groups or mobs
a regular feature of U.S. society and politics (like other nations)
Protests have had results: (some progress through protest)
--helped labor gain recognition and advance their interests – 8-hour day, social security
--helped civil rights laws to pass 1960s.
--helped end U.S. involvement in Vietnam
--success of the American Revolution – protests – in mobilizing the population.
Prospects for future:
A return to 1960s protest and violence? Likely or unlikely?
Changed terrain – re: race and ethnic rebellions
a) presence of many black and Hispanic elected officials in cities today (200+ mayors)
this symbolic access makes prospect of local residents less likely to riot? even though social conditions for them not significantly better overall.
intensify protest as people view them as ineffective or traitors?
b) spread of illegal drug trade – averts/deflects social rebellion?
focus discontent of youth away from social activism?
What if the energy and organizational skills of thousands of youth were directed from gang activity to political organizing?
The drug trade demoralizes/undermines oppressed communities.
c) labor unions decline since the 1960s --
will lead to more or less labor violence? (Brecher: unions restrain violence)
Are there new forms of revolt for the future?