Activist highlights importance of civil disobedience
Sydney Enlow | Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Bree Newsome, a community organizer, artist and activist, said she believes art plays an essential role in shaping culture and consciousness and can be used to symbolize a variety of social, political and historical beliefs.
Newsome was arrested for civil disobedience on June 27 after she removed the Confederate flag displayed on the grounds of the South Carolina State House.
Newsome said she saw multiple instances of social injustice during the summer of 2013, which inspired her to work for change.
“The summer of 2013 was a pivotal time in the awakening of my socio-political consciousness,” Newsome said. “The past seemed to be rising in the summer of 2013, and not in good ways.”
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states to change their election laws without advance notice or federal approval, Newsome said.
“My home state of North Carolina wasted no time in creating new election laws, clearly making it harder for blacks, poor people and students to vote,” she said. “I was in Raleigh, North Carolina in late July when a friend invited me out to a ‘Moral Monday’ protest, organized by the North Carolina NAACP, responding to the attack on voting rights.”
Newsome said she soon learned in order for social justice to prevail, there would be potential legal consequences.
“I decided to attend the protest that summer in 2013, and there I encountered this vibrant group of young people my age who were putting themselves on the line in the name of justice and equality,” Newsome said. “Most of them had already been arrested once, if not twice, for staging sit in at the Capitol. I was immediately impressed by the courage in their convictions and in their commitment to a righteous cause — so I decided to join them in their next protest and volunteered to be arrested at a sit-in the following Wednesday”
The 2013 Trayvon Martin case sparked a surge of activist movements, Newsome said.
“I was excited to be a part of it — to be part of a cause much greater than myself, to help carry forward the banner for freedom and equality and justice.” Newsome said.
Newsome said the continued flying of the Confederate flag serves as a reminder of her family’s history with racism.
“Being a child of the South myself and descended from a family that has been in the Carolinas for hundreds of years, the meaning of the Confederate flag was never lost on me,” she said. “It was a banner that first represented slavery and then, after the South lost the War, it became emblematic of the Jim Crow laws that would govern the South for the next 100 years.”
Newsome felt a call to action after the Charleston shootings last June, she said.
“As long as I will live, I will never forget the night of the Charleston massacre,” she said. “It shook me to my core that here we were in 2015 and this level of racial hatred and terrorism was still happening in America. … To be honest as a Christian, I had a crisis of faith at that moment.”
At this point in time, Newsome said she was organizing activist events in her local community and had no intention of getting arrested again. However, when the idea to remove the Confederate flag from the State House arose, Newsome said she knew she would do whatever it took.
“I was so deeply convicted on the issue and fact that I had seriously contemplated attempting the climb myself — having no real climbing experience and [being] certain that I would be arrested before making it to the top.” she said. “I still felt strongly that the point must be made how absolutely intolerable it was for that flag to fly another day, especially as the U.S. and State flag had been set at half-mast.”
Newsome said every person can contribute to the fight for social justice in some way.
“Everyone can help lead the way toward a just society,” she said. “Everyone carries with them skills, talents, life experience and knowledge that is valuable to this world.
“One doesn’t have to be an activist in the traditional sense of the word to be impactful. Civil disobedience and public protest are essential to achieving democracy — they always have been and they always will be. But justice doesn’t come only in the streets. Everyone must ask themselves, ‘What is at stake in these times?’”
However, Newsome said there is still work to be done in the fight for social justice.
“I believe it is crucial that we recognize the systemic and global nature of injustice,” she said. “We have to move towards a human rights framework which recognizes the struggle for racial justice in America as being part of a universal struggle for education, housing, democracy and equal protection under the law.”