Society has faced numerous problems such as dictatorship, racial discrimination, prejudice, disease, poverty, illiteracy etc. It takes noble and courageous people to rise up against all these forms of oppression and attempt to effect change. The general masses appear weak and more often than not fail to display any resistance. They appear numb and somewhat content with the current circumstances and hence lack the will power to effect change. Major uprisings and revolutions began with courageous individuals who in turn influenced the masses to join and they eventually brought about change. They deserve to be applauded for the liberties we enjoy such as equality and all persons can access transport, health services, education, housing, employment and vote. This paper seeks to examine African American civil right activists as well as Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committees (SNCC) from Mississippi. Reference will also be made from Albert Camus's novel, The Plague. It will seek to establish why most people do not participate in radical uprisings and what it might take for individuals in modern democracies to participate fully in political life.
Camus's novel, The Plague narrates a story of a plague epidemic affecting Oran, a small city in the Algerian coast. Dr Rieux stumbles on some rats in the 1940s and informs the owner of the building who adamantly refutes that there are no rats. The rats proliferate rapidly and reach 8000 within a few days and some people begin to exhibit symptoms of flu. That is when the plague epidemic becomes full blown. Anxiety heightens amongst the people and the final blow comes when the town gates are shut. This an attempt to quarantine the town people so as to contain the plague and avoid infecting other people. It is a trying period for the people of Oran and many despair as they await death. The town's priest, Fr Paneloux gives a sermon on how God is punishing the people via plague for their sins (Caman, p.84). The town crematorium is overwhelmed by the large number of bodies to cremate as sadness and the feeling of exile echoes throughout the town.
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Jean Tarrou who had been visiting the town initiates voluntary sanitary squads in the town.
Joseph Grand (city worker) and Raymond Rambert (journalist) join the voluntary squad. Tarrou solely draws a work plan to counteract the plague and he wants it to be implemented as soon as possible without passing via the official channels which have demonstrated great deficiency in fighting the plague. He manages to mobilize the town people and reincarnates their fighting will instead of despairing. Tarrou is one of a kind as he has the will power to do something positive instead of doing nothing. The town people felt that the battle belonged to the officials and doctors and assumed the role of passive onlookers. They felt that a solution would only come from the doctor and they made no attempt to help the doctors or officials. Most had lost hope and were living recklessly as they awaited death. Some like Rambert were initially making plans to escape from the town before changing their minds and joining the voluntary squads. This is a classic example of people choosing to be evasive and passive thereby not actively participating to effect change. Such people deem themselves helpless and fail to utilize their full potential to change their current circumstances. Grand assumes the role of a general secretary in the sanitary squad and he keeps the books.
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Eventually all the effort of the town people result to proper management of plague and it becomes a collective battle of the masses. Camus writes, "No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and emotions shared by all." (Camus, p.167). Rambert finally decides to stay in Oran and is shameful of his initial efforts to escape. He discloses, "Until now I always felt a stranger in this town, and that I'd no concern with you people. But now that I've seen what I have seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybody's business." (Camus, p. 210). It is essential for everyone to be concerned of others welfare instead of being egocentric and just watching out for oneself. Just like Rambert, people should be fully committed to achieve a particular cause beneficial to everyone instead of escaping and leaving others to suffer.
Finally the plague ends and the deaths decline. There is merry making as the town gates are opened and family and friends reunite.
Civil Rights Movement became rife in Mississippi in 1955 and the different uprisings were collectively referred to as the Southern Freedom Movement. The African Americans were protesting oppression by the Whites who formed the government. They were actively protesting against racial discrimination and were advocating for restoration of fundamental freedom, dignity and respect as well as social and economic equality. This led to the establishment of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) that was comprised of African Americans and Whites opposed to African American oppression. They advocated for involvement of African Americans in policy making and wanted them to be allowed to vote (BlackPast.org, p.1).
The Government did not heed to their demands and on November 1963 the party organized a parallel 'Freedom Ballot' where over 80000 people cast their freedom ballots for an independent group of candidates. The party proceeded to hold county assemblies and local caucuses that culminated in a state convention to elect 68 delegates with 4 of them being white. These delegates were meant to represent Mississippi in the Democratic convention that was scheduled to be held in Atlantic City. They went by bus and identified themselves as the bona fide representatives from Mississippi as they challenged the legitimacy of the delegates selected via process marred with racial segregation. This attracted media attention as protesters vented their anger of white oppression outside the convention. The Convention Credential Committee deliberated over the matter as the majority white delegates vowed to boycott the convention if the MFDP delegates were allowed to participate in the convention. The decision by the Convention Credential Committee was influenced by the whites and they decided to offer two sits to the MFDP delegates and they were just allowed to observe and barred from actively participating. This was rejected by the MFDP. They were unable to participate in the convention and this was a clear demonstration of sacrificing justice to suit the needs of the supreme whites. However all was not in vain as this open protest of white oppression facilitated the enactment of a Voting Rights Act which was implemented in 1965. This is a clear indication that unity is strength. As a result of the Mississippi people coming together, they were able to enforce legislation thereby achieving change. African Americans were allowed membership into the Democratic Party and guaranteed fair participation. Some of the activists in the MFDP rose in rank and became party leaders. People worldwide need to be empowered like the Mississippi people and resist any form of oppression.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was another major uprising that was also part of the Southern Freedom Movement. It championed for civil rights in the 1960s and comprised of students from Shaw University after Ella Baker mobilized and led student meetings. As a result many members joined from the North and they financed the organization's activities in the South. They could afford to have full time paid workers who received a salary of $10 on weekly basis. Moreover they had numerous volunteers from Mississippi, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama. SNCC played an active role in mobilizing people for the 'March on Washington' in 1963. The climax of the march was when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech, 'I have a dream' that inspired many to actively lobby against racial discrimination. Many downtrodden African Americans became optimistic that change was possible. Such people were too oppressed to even dream that their circumstances could change and they could enjoy the services that had been denied to them for generations. At times it requires a radical like Martin Luther King, Jr. to ignite a desire amongst the people so that they can realize that restoration of fundamental freedom is possible. The masses should also realize that collectively they can achieve change by influencing appropriate legislation and even toppling a tyrannical government. This protest march was crucial as it helped in the passing of the Civil Right Act in 1964.
In addition, the SNCC conducted driver to register voters in Mississippi and Georgia. The activities of the SNCC especially during the 'March against Fear' led to the coining of the political slogan 'Black Power'. Black power meant the forceful acknowledgement of African Americans as equal citizens who should be accorded all services rendered by the government without discrimination. They were also demanding an end to all forms of oppression meted on African Americans (Austin, p.1).
In conclusion people should not be apathetic and should instead take their role in monitoring governance in their respective country. They should realize that there is strength in numbers and should demonstrate their sovereignty by voting during elections and referendums. Just like the civil right movements in Mississippi they can also influence policy making thereby enforcing appropriate governance. Unfortunately most people don't care about governance and choose to emigrate to escape oppression. As a result there lacks resistance and impunity is propagated. This was exhibited by Rambert in The Plague. Later on Rambert aborted his plan to escape and joined the sanitary squads. Collectively the people of Oran managed to contain the plague. The moral lesson from the book is that when united people can stand but upon division they fall. Therefore it is the duty of every citizen to participate fully in monitoring governance in the respective country.
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