Several things occurred to me in the last few minutes.
Getting back to the meeting today for a moment, I was impressed with a
speech that was made by Walter
. The general tone of the meeting where I think a
number of the speakers such as Phil Randolph
, Martin Luther King
successfully wove together a pattern of economic, social and political
There was a strong emphasis on jobs and economic
objectives. I think this is important. The labor movement here has a
very significant role to play, one that several of the larger unions
have been playing far more effectively than the movement as a whole. For
example, the AFL-CIO at their
annual board meeting several weeks ago refused to endorse the march.
was so disgusted with the mealy mouth statement that
they finally put out that he said it was so weak that it probably died
on the way to the mimeograph machine. The role of labor is critical. I
think more and more if we are able, which I think that's the problem.
Bill has put his finger on it. If we are able to
galvanize the kind of public discussion that he's talking about, a
stronger appeal can be made to labor groups and labor organizations, who
again in the same way as the civil rights movement has gone, can push
their leadership into stronger and more aggressive positions than
they've been willing to go.
Getting back to the larger issue of the problems
involved in public discussion, here again I'm completely in agreement
with Mr. Higgs in the sense that it is terribly important that a
detailed, careful analysis and thorough going public discussion of all
the legislative facets of a possible bill. It's true, there isn't any
one bill at the moment.
There are three different committees of the United
States Congress. I think one is finally wound up its work in the House.
There are three different committees considering a variety of different
bills. They will come to some determination we hope in the next few
weeks. Then those bills will be reported out on the floor. We can expect
prolonged congressional discussion.
If you look back to the Civil Rights Bill of 1957 and the Civil Rights Bill of 1960, there were quite a good number of us who
didn't throw our hats in the air with glee at the passage of these
bills. They were weak bills to start with. In their legislative journey
through the committees and through the various manipulations on the floor of Congress, they were watered down and very badly massacred, that is probably a proper word for it.
The way to at least attempt to prevent this kind of thing, it seems to me, is to force out, to galvanize some basic public discussion on these measures and not simply on the vague and very general idea of civil rights and what it means in the south and in the north.
What they mean in terms of specific, detailed legislative objectives.
We've had some experience with that in the last few
weeks because some of the people in educational television have been
attempting, for example, to gain what is really not a very large amount
of money to support a nightly discussion from Washington
on an educational TV network.
I think in the commercial you can't mention TV when you are on radio and
radio when you are on TV. I think on an FM educational station this is
alright. The sum is a very modest sum.
What it would provide would be something like a 15-minute to 30-minute nightly program, or three times a week, of analysis, grammatic discussion, and dramatization of the various aspects of the bill. It would attempt to develop through new audiences
for these media through the Negro Press, through the civil rights
organizations, through trade unions, and through other groups a large
audience that for the first time would have a front-row seat on a
legislative struggle or battle and be able to identify the players, as
we say in football, by the numbers, by knowing what is going on.
In 1957 and 1960 when these two previous civil rights bills
were passed, the public didn't know very much about any of the specifics
at all. The pressure in support of stronger measures was very weak, very
weak indeed. This ultimately resulted in a lot of congressmen,
Republicans and Democrats, getting off the hook.
What a program and what public discussion does is
that it tends to put the spotlight on the congressmen and makes them
take their position publicly. It brings them out so to speak so the
public has an idea where congressman so and so stands and how he
actually did vote. When a bill gets on the floor of Congress and it goes
into the process of debate, amendment, and amendments to amendments, it
can get pretty confusing.
Unless there is some clear and distinct
understanding at what is at stake here, the public will get lost and the
politicians will be able to hide and come out with a weaker bill. At
this point, rather than talk about the specific objectives and the
specific aspects of the legislation, which isn't premature but is only
premature in the sense that we don't yet have any guarantee that there
is going to be any full public discussion. This is where I'd like to put a good deal of energy. This is the payoff on today's demonstration.
This is why I said earlier that I approach this with
some degree of skepticism because my feeling was that this has got to be
a beginning. You've got to galvanize and direct all this energy and
organization towards support, full knowledge and discussion of the
specific legislative objectives coming up. I'd like to see some of this
energy and some of this tremendous spirit brought to bear in that
enterprise. It would be revolutionary because it would be the first
time, I think, in American history that a bill as complicated and
detailed as this would be subject to that kind of public discussion and
analysis, at least in recent times.