Civil Disobedience, Litigation, and the Gaplin Sit-In

In January of 2018, the College of Wooster witnessed a public demonstration against its own administration on its own campus. The demonstration was in the form of a more impromptu walkout and laid back sit-in. Students were sent mass texts to leave class 10 minutes early and to meet in front of Kauke, where they would be greeted with student leaders handing out pins and giant speakerphones playing music. Afterwards, students walked to the administration building–not without a few pictures from the school’s professional photographer. After students filed into the building, the demands were read aloud, students were encouraged to post on social media. The sit-in began. Students were served drinks by the administration staff, given the opportunity to leave and come back, and engaged in light conversation and games until the sit ended that night.

Now, what does a traditional sit-in look like? Historically, sit-ins were serious and somber, with students locked in a building for hours, refusing to leave until the last of their demands were met. These demands were often concise, and the student leaders who negotiated them were relentless. The Gaplin Sit-In, however, was a different type of sit-in. In a new age, very few things are kept the same– public demonstrations included. The main purpose of civil disobedience was to make enough noise, so those in charge were forced to make a change. In this age, that noise can be made with a few Instagram posts, Snapchat stories, and tweets. But how effective can this be? Such a question can only be answered with 20-20 vision, so Wooster students must wait to see how effective the Gaplin Sit-In was. The one result that is instant, however, is the hope and inspiration the sit-in stirred in others. One can say confidently, that no matter how effective the sit-in was, it was far from a waste of time.

Reflection on Dr. Kathleen Cleaver

Last week, the College of Wooster had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Kathleen Cleaver– a prominent member of the Black Panther Party. During her lecture, Cleaver spoke on her involvement in the party as well as the party’s international involvement and advocacy.

When discussing local involvement in the Black Panther party, Cleaver expressed the community’s tenacity to joining the party. At this point in Black civil rights, African Americans were more than willing to join an organization that practiced civil disobedience through public demonstrations and lectures. This tenacity can be contrasted with the Black community’s apprehension towards civil disobedience in the 1940s. During the 1940s, civil disobedience tactics were the topic of debate, as prominent Black figures discussed the shift from litigation to civil disobedience. On one hand, litigation supporters stated that the slow-and-steady pace of the legal system was the best tactic in order to avoid racial violence. Civil disobedience supporters, however, stated the slow-and-steady pace of the legal system was too slow, and public demonstrations were more effective. For that particular time, it cannot be said which tactic was more effective. However, by the 1960s, civil disobedience became widely practiced, present as the driving force for many organizations–including the Black Panthers.

The second driving force of the Black Panther party is the idea of global Black power. The concept of Black power was not of Black superiority, but rather Black freedom to determine one’s future. This idea was not contained to just the United States. The Black Panther party incited a global Black power movement that mirrors that of the rise of pan-Africanism following World War I. Just as Blacks across the globe realized their oppression and connected through their shared experiences around 1915, people of color around the globe connected in the 1960s.

Cultural Anxiety: The Bridge Between Trump and the Confederacy

The win of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election surprised many United States citizens. However, how surprised can one really be? President Donald Trump’s election was an almost direct parallel to the secession of the Confederacy. The bridge between the two is not racism, or even economics, but cultural anxiety–the worry or concern surrounding societal transitions.

Although traditionally understood as the primary cause of the Confederacy’s secession from the United States, the economics of slavery was not the primary driving force. This is exemplified through the border states’ rejection of Lincoln’s A Plea for Compensated Emancipation in 1962  in which Lincoln offered continuous financial compensation for the gradual emancipation of slaves. If finances were the Confederacy’s primary concern, the states would have willingly accepted  Lincoln’s offer. Rather, the states committed to a war that contributed to the major loss of both people and money. In 2016, it was speculated that economic anxiety was the driving force behind Trump’s election. However, “financially troubled voters in the white working class were more likely to prefer Clinton over Trump,” (Green, 2017).  Again, money was not of utmost importance. Instead, it was the preservation of particular way of life.

The southern plantation owner of the 1800s and the white working class of the 2000s have more in common than race. Each group had witnessed decades of events and ideologies that were perceived to threaten their way of life. The southern plantation owner, in particular, experienced the Compromise of 1820, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott case, and John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry in the span of forty years. Each of these events questioned and even attacked the continuation of slavery and the south’s entitlement to property, violating the southern states’ constitutional rights. In the Apostles of Disunion, the South’s aggravation and fear for their way of live as a  slave society can be seen through the charged language: “the light of our civilization goes down in blood, our wives and our little ones will be driven from their homes by the light of our own dwellings….” This fear is apparent in the white working class as 68% felt the U.S. is in danger of losing it’s identity  and needs to be protected from foreign influence (Green, 2017). Nearly half of the white working class agreed that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country,” (Green, 2017). These claims are reminiscent of the Confederacy’s own fear for their way of life.

The one thing, however, that is unknown are the specific events and ideologies that led to the white working class’ feeling of isolation. Currently, these events can only speculated. Such would be the increased immigration in the past 10 years as well as the increase in diversity in multiple social spaces. In addition to the increase in diversity, the onset of social media has contributed to the public advocacy for Black, LatinX, Native American, and LGBTQ+ rights, decreasing the apparent media attention on the white middle class. Although these events are not necessarily deserving of a secession, they can be seen as a contribution to white American fear.

Works Cited:

Green, Emma. “It Was Cultural Anxiety That Drove White, Working-Class             Voters to Trump.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 9 May 2017,                trump-cultural-anxiety/525771/.