I have been thinking a lot about the incomparable Julian Bond the last couple of days, but as he would no doubt be saying, in spite of our sorrow, we have to keep our eyes on the prize. The contrast could not be greater between the violence in word and deed of so many modern day conservatives and the path Julian Bond forged to make a new way for us in this world.
I am looking with dismay today at footage of thugs working for Scott Walker pushing around demonstrators. Walker then brags about it, talking about how tough he is and how we will fight back against the “special interest” demonstrators. This video brings to mind what happened when my colleague Lauren Windsor found out where the latest Koch secret meeting was and went to cover it — one of the Kochs’ top capos grabbed her and a friend and physically assaulted them.
Then there is the rhetoric on the Republican and conservative side, which seems to grow increasingly violent every year. From Trump’s Mexican rapist comments to Christie saying he wants to punch teachers in the face, to the Tea Partiers’ “watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants” to Rush Limbaugh’s calling feminist activists sluts, this crowd gets nastier and nastier.
The contrast with Julian Bond could not be greater. Julian Bond did not back down from anyone who was doing wrong. He took the Georgia legislature to the U.S. Supreme Court when they denied him the right to serve after being duly elected; he never backed down from advocating civil disobedience in the face of death threats, physical violence, and jail time; his razor sharp wit won a thousand aggressive verbal duels; if heckled, he remained calm while making his case.
But Scott Walker and the Kochs seem to think they have to hire thugs to protect them from those who disagree with them. Julian Bond won his battles without a single thug by his side. Ever. He didn’t engage in this kind of petty bullying both because he knew it would demean him and his movement, and because he didn’t need to: he won his battles through the clarity of his vision, the brilliance of his intellect, and the strength of his character.
When I was a young man growing up, and I wanted to make a difference in making the world a better place, I got interested in political organizing as my way to accomplishing that end. My home state of Nebraska was as Republican a place as it could be, and most of the people I knew were Republican and pretty conservative. But when I looked out at the field of political battle, and I saw people like George Wallace and Richard Nixon on one side, and people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Julian Bond, and John Lewis on the other side, it was pretty easy to figure out which side I wanted to be on.
Forty plus years later, I know I picked the right side. Our side doesn’t have anywhere near the money or political muscle, but I would rather be standing with Julian Bond and his brethren than with the Koch brothers and Scott Walker any day of the week. Bullies sometimes get their way, but I like being with the people who stand up to those bullies.
I met Julian Bond a few times over the years, once consulting for a group he chaired (the NAACP National Voter Fund), and it was always a pleasure to talk with him on those occasions. My favorite memory of him was shortly after Obama’s re-election, at an awards dinner for the Midwest Academy, the legendary organizers’ training group started by Julian’s and my dear friend Heather Booth.
It was such a heady moment for me to be honored at the same dinner as Julian Bond. The best part was our pre-dinner conversation on how to keep pushing Obama to the left in his second term. Julian’s strategic insights on what to do next were superb. That brief moment, soaking in the wisdom of this great man, was one of the most cherished experiences of my life.
This country has a choice: Julian Bond’s path of peace and social justice, or the path of bullies. I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of Julian Bond.