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Democrats Ignore John Lewis's Non-violence Message at Their Electoral Peril

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Last week at the Democratic National Convention, the party paid tribute to the recently passed John Lewis. The longtime congressman and civil rights icon was given a much deserved tribute, with many of the man’s words displayed and repeated in his honor. As much as the man is revered within his party, what is remarkable to behold is that his words are all too often ignored.


In recent times there have been two hallmarks of the Lewis legacy that Democrats are particularly tone deaf about on a regular basis. Lewis had shown particular deference towards all groups, and while he was a strong voice for black causes, he did not rise up with singularity to support only his race. He spoke against all forms of racism and bigotry, and he was also a defender of the Jewish people, frequently speaking against anti-Semitism. 

Consider this detail. In 1995, Lewis, though a celebrated civil rights activist, declined to participate in the Million Man March. He explained this was specifically due to the involvement of Louis Farrakhan, and how his divisive words towards the Jewish faith were unacceptable. Contrast that firm stance with current Democrats and their affiliated groups.

Two members of Congress - Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar - are quite brazen in their regular delivery of intolerance towards Jews and policies involving Israel. Linda Sarsour is another figure the left has embraced, only to find themselves grappling with her intolerant messaging. The Women’s March has basically unravelled as a movement due to Sarsour and others overtaking it with their anti-Semitism. You can even include New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the way he frequently seems to target that city’s Jewish population.


But the Democrats' bigger departure from John Lewis's legacy concerns the recent spate of violence we have endured across the country. One quote of his that was delivered is poignant and becomes revelatory: “The means by which we struggle must be consistent with the end we seek.” This was not taken from his days of marching and speaking during the civil rights era. He said that in 1994 - to Al Sharpton. Yet as they quoted the man eagerly, Democrats are reticent to put his words into practice.

Some have pointed out that all the talk about unity the Democrats delivered at the convention not only contrasted with the divisive violence we have witnessed for months on end, there was also very little in the way of calling for it to cease from the numerous speakers. Many in the Democratic ranks have been more willing to cite the violence as a reaction towards Donald Trump, tipping their hand at using the conflicts as political fodder.

As we have watched the protests devolve into violent riots for months, the Democrats and the press have been more than willing to celebrate the upheaval and downplay the realities. The press strives to classify these riots with their preferred euphemism as being "mostly peaceful." Look how they framed weeks of unchecked takeovers of public squares in Seattle and Portland by rioters in romanticized terms, and after long bouts of inactivity by local officials when federal authorities tried to quell violence only then was condemnation served. You also have the clear blindspot of trumpeting the message that "Black Lives Matter," but then overlooking the numerous examples of black lives which have been lost at the hands of these very same protests.


The most stark example of the party bypassing the very message of their late icon comes from within their ranks. Take the words of another member of The Squad, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who recently said "There needs to be unrest in the streets," in her call to apply pressure to the Republicans in Washington. Look also at how many times people in the press have stated in almost extortionist terms that if Democrats do not win in November the rioting will only escalate.

What the Democrats in their fervor fail to recognize is this is not a winning strategy. A recent study on the effects social activism has on the electorate was made by Assistant Professor Omar Wasow, from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Wasow studied the way that protests, and then affiliated riots, have had an influence upon the voting tendencies of the public, beginning in the civil rights era.

Wasow has been looking into the manner that smaller groups and demographics have used means in order to get messaging out in a fashion that would influence their social goals. Calling these activist efforts "Agenda seeding," he studied the way that protests have had an effect on the popular opinion, leading to results in the election cycles. The basic conclusion is that protests have been shown to lead to a percentage gain for Democrats, but once these demonstrations morph into the violent side of rioting then the electoral result benefits Republicans.


More than this, the lasting effect on the voting public is greater in response to the violence. One graph Wasow provides shows that protests, media coverage, and public support tend to move in tandem, with the public opinion gradually waning as does the activism and its coverage.

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