July 4, 2020
Hats off to the Mississippi legislators (most of them) and the governor for finally doing the right thing, chucking the last state flag in the U.S. featuring a symbol of the slavery-celebrating secessionist South. Rivers of ink (albeit most of it digital) have already flowed on the momentous decision, some well worth reading, some not so much. At least based on what I’ve seen, however, nowhere near enough attention has been paid to the pivotal question of motivation. Why dump the flag now?
Yes, sure, we’re at a “historic juncture” when the conscience of the nation has been challenged anew by the seemingly endless series of police killings of black and brown people. Yes, the sadistic cop-killing of George Floyd arrived atop the extraordinary stress of a mismanaged pandemic and the ensuing economic meltdown. Yes, no doubt many organizations and individuals with clout made many phone calls to the statehouse and the governor’s mansion, and promised to come down heavy if Mississippi remained recalcitrant on the flag issue (what? no NCAA playoff games in Mississippi? OMG!).
But make no mistake. One factor looms above all others in the mix of motivators – mass action. Hundreds of thousands of people – people of all colors – in the street day and day, in state after state, city after city, community after community, demanding transformative change. Not asking to have polite conversations with their elected officials, not “advocating” or “lobbying” for modest proposals in hopes of getting their voices heard above the din of big-money political players, but demanding change, striking fear in the hearts of officials who dared turn a deaf ear.
Mass action is the essential backdrop and context, and ultimately the lesson, of Mississippi’s long-overdue flag change. Without mass action, and the legitimate fear it generates in the elite, the stars and bars of the Confederacy would still be flying.