Bring Back The Tactics Of The Civil Rights Movement

Several states have recently considered passing laws allowing legal discrimination against LGBT people. These laws are based on the notion of religious freedom. What is the proper left-libertarian response to these laws? The answer is advocacy of direct action. If the laws pass, we left-libertarians should engage in sit-ins analogous to what the Civil Rights Movement carried out. This could lead to the desegregation of businesses and put social pressure on owners to allow LGBT people to be served. Sheldon Richman provides us with history attesting to its usefulness:

As I’ve written elsewhere, lunch counters throughout the American south were being desegregated years before passage of the 1964 Act. How so? Through sit-ins, boycotts, and other kinds of nonviolent, nongovernmental confrontational social action. (Read moving accounts here and here.)

Sheldon provides additional evidence of the practicality of this approach in another piece:

Even earlier, during the 1950s, David Beito and Linda Royster Beito report in Black Maverick, black entrepreneur T.R.M. Howard led a boycott of national gasoline companies that forced their franchisees to allow blacks to use the restrooms from which they had long been barred.

These bills make an Orwellian use of terms like freedom. The ability to exclude people for irrational and arbitrary reasons is not an instance of liberty. Libertarians will earn the wrath of decent LGBT people everywhere without offering a solution other than state force to the problem of discrimination. We have a chance to show that our individualist principles apply to persecuted minorities as much as non-minorities. It’s not something to botch.

What about the issues of private property rights and trespass? One way to approach that question is through contextual or dialectical libertarian methodology. Private property rights are contextual and relate to occupancy or use. They are one value among others to consider in assessing the morality of an action. In the context of bigots irrationally excluding people from spaces otherwise open to the public, the value of private property rights is trumped by the need for social inclusion. This doesn’t sanction state force, but it does sanction non-violent protest. Civil Rights protesters were even entitled to use defensive force against the thugs who used violence against them for conducting sit-ins. The same would apply to contemporary LGBT protesters.

I am not saying private property rights are always trumped by other concerns. Your right to the product of your labor is not trumped by the state’s need for revenue. I am saying that morality demands trade offs sometimes. This means that some things relevant to liberty are more important than private property rights. Let us consider this as one of those instances.

Translations for this article:


Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory