Re: The Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam

Tal Herman (
Thu, 25 Apr 1996 08:17:57 -0400

At 11:26 AM 4/24/96, EDWARD P. MORGAN wrote:

[in response to Dick Crepeau's comments about white college students
turning establishment as they got older]

>I wonder how much this is really true, Dick, or how much there is a difference
>between the two movements. According to most empirical sources I've seen
>(McAdam, Flacks...) activists from both crm & antiwar movements have remained
>largely true to their political commitments [I suspect here that liberals in
>each movement have remained liberal; radicals have remained largely radical;
>and I don't include in either group those action-faction drop-ins drawn by the
>media images of "revolutionaries" These may be the ones the priest is
>referring to.]. There may be a middle-class-respectability veneer (or reality)
>with each group now, but that doesn't necessarily translate into the implied
>sell-out that the media so often trumpet.


I would be interested in an explanation of what the empirical sources
define as "largely true to their political commitments." It seems to me
that it is easy for a former member of the "movement," be it civil rights
or anti-war, to continue to profess belief in the goals which they espoused
in their youth. I wonder, however, how "largely true to their political
commitments" are those people who have adopted either the veneer or reality
of middle-class respectability.

Middle-class respectability implies an acceptance of the status quo and the
pursuit of success as defined by our society, which I think one would be
hard-put to argue embraces the progressive and equal rights ideals of
either the civil rights or anti-war movements. As an attorney and member
of the middle class (though not particularly respectable or respectful), I
have contact on a regular basis with other members of the middle class,
many of whom have civil rights or anti-war backgrounds.

My legal specialty is criminal defense and I do contract work for other
defense attorneys and also am appointed by the State of California to
represent indigent defendants when they appeal their convictions. This
work brings me into contact with many defense attorneys who were
radicals/liberals in the sixties and still espouse those philosophies
today. These attorneys maintain their liberal credentials by doing
criminal defense work and also bringing civil rights actions against state

I would suggest, however, that the veneer many of these former
liberals/radicals have adopted is a veneer of liberality. Criminal defense
work in the private sector can be highly remunerative, as can civil suits
charging state or federal actors with civil rights violations. Some few of
these people continue to be motivated by a love of the law and a strong
desire to right the wrongs they perceive in a racist and classist society,
but for most money and not change appears to be the motivating factor.

It is relatively easy for those of us who come from the comfort of the
middle class to turn against the views our parents hold sacred (Mom, apple
pie, etc.) and adopt a radical anti-establishment philosophy for a short
period of time before re-integrating into the status quo. I think the
priest to whom Dick Crepeau refers was for the most part correct.
Marginalized populations don't have the luxury of integration into the
status quo and so make for more consistent, if less politically powerful,
opponents of the established order.

Tal Herman