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Are sit-in protests libertarian?

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Cortes Posted: Sat, Sep 1 2012 10:29 PM

I have been reading an interesting 'market anarchist' blog that discusses the sit-in protests of the Civil Rights movement. The article argues how these protests were an effective libertarian technique for combating the local culture of segregation that permeated private businesses in the South, and were far more effective than the Civil Rights Act itself:

Woolworth’s lunch counters weren’t desegregated by Title II. The sit-in movement did that. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott onward, the Freedom Movement had won victories, town by town, building movements, holding racist institutions socially and economically accountable. The sit-ins proved the real-world power of the strategy: In Greensboro, N.C., nonviolent sit-in protests drove Woolworth’s to abandon its whites-only policy by July 1960. The Nashville Student Movement, through three months of sit-ins and boycotts, convinced merchants to open all downtown lunch counters in May the same year. Creative protests and grassroots pressure campaigns across the South changed local cultures and dismantled private segregation without legal backing.

Should lunch counters have been allowed to stay segregated? No—but the question is how to disallow it. Bigoted businesses shouldn’t face threats of legal force for their racism. They should face a force much fiercer and more meaningful—the full force of voluntary social organization and a culture of equality. What’s to stop resegregation in a libertarian society? We are. Using the same social power that was dismantling Jim Crow years before legal desegregation.

 

Do sit-in protests violate property rights? Are they incompatible with plumb-line libertarianism or would such methods of civil disobedience- even within a libertarian society respecting property rights- still be a functional and desirable form of protesting?

They are in a sense, the most pure form of nullification we can come across.

In libertopia it is hard to deny that these protests could still happen, because libertopia is not utopia, thankfully. 

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Bogart replied on Sat, Sep 1 2012 10:40 PM

That depends on where the Sit In is taking place.  Certainly if the protest is on "public" property or the property of someone who acquired the propertly illegitimately, then it can not be a violation of private property rights.  If it is on the physical property of a private individual or private group of individuals who legitimiately acquired it, then the owners may determine that it is trespassing and are within their rights to remove the people from the premisis.

Now just because the protestors are violating someone elses private property does not mean that the reason for the protest is un-libertarian.  The protestors may be protesting to highlight the violations of property by the owners of the property.

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Cortes replied on Sat, Sep 1 2012 11:04 PM

Say they are protesting the property owner's tacit support of a Jim Crow regime that actively micromanages their daily lives based on their skin color.

Is that sit-in not ethically justified? Can this consideration supercede standard notions of property rights?

Remember, this Jim Crow regime would necessarily include violations of minority property rights to be most effective as an instrument of tyranny; perhaps the greatest form of this was the government's treatment of Native Americans, consigning them to stagnation in ownerless fenced-in hells of the commons.

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Wheylous replied on Sat, Sep 1 2012 11:08 PM

In regard to the Civil Rights movement, Block has this to say:

 

Consider in this regard that spate of infamous legislation known as Jim Crow (Williams 1982b). Here, rights were violated on a massive scale, and great harm was perpetrated. Blacks had to sit at the back of the bus because of legal requirements. If they tried to take a seat anywhere else, they would be jailed. Similarly, they were legally restricted in terms of the washroom and drinking fountain facilities. 
[...]
[T]he same statist powers that forbade blacks the front of the bus also prohibited entrepreneurs from coming to the rescue of the minority group in this commercially competitive way. Operation permits to alternative bus firms were simply not granted (Wiprud 1945; Moore 1961; Eckert and Hilton 1972).
[emphasis mine]
 
Not 100% on-topic, but still relevant.

 

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Anenome replied on Sat, Sep 1 2012 11:26 PM
 
 

Here's the thing, if you sit in and refuse to leave, yes you're violating the property right of the owner and he has the right to ask you to leave and then coerce you to do so if you refuse.

However, from a moral standpoint, a libertarian is against such a silly thing as racial segregation and oppression, and using the sit in to force a segregationist owner to throw you out and making it known why you're forcing the issue is a perfectly valid means of showing disapproval of particular policies.

It's a non-violent means of protest, as long as you actually leave when asked to leave. And perhaps actually forcing a business to hire new security to remove all of you would create a financial burden on racism that would also be an effective deterrent.

Furthermore doing that sort of thing is much less questionable than, say, picketing. Because there's no private roads or sidewalks in a libertarian society, and most likely the owner would own the street in front of him and disallow picketing.

Ultimately you'd likely have groups begin to rate businesses on their policies and access to such info could make it far easier for consumers to decide whom they want to patronize.

In a truly free market, racists would be free to be open about it, rather than perhaps hiding it as they do now, making racism less pernicious as it would be far easier to avoid such people and create a social cost for racism. Racists would also be expected to group together and become insular in a free society, which would be fine. I'd rather have them group together and leave the rest of us alone. Then we can ignore them as a group and a region :P

 
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Cortes replied on Sat, Sep 1 2012 11:44 PM

The blog in the OP is discussing a book featuring articles by Charles Johnson and Sheldon Richman. Interesting tidbit from a related discussion:

[Sheldon Richman] also believes ... that in the actual historical context of the Jim Crow South, white store owners — as the economic beneficiaries of massive racist violence, and the use of this violence to dispossess black workers and suppress competition from anti-racist alternatives — may not have had any really legitimate claims of ownership in the stores that they controlled [emphasis mine].

To me this is a sort of indictment against the "Vampire Economy" environment of fascist states. I don't know if anybody would consider Jim Crow to be 'fascist' (besides muddleheaded liberal types who use that word in a cartoonish, dark Disney Villain fashion) but this leads us to an interesting point, because I presume Charles Johnson is arguing that they are, on ethical grounds, justified in making the protest and trespassing against property owners who show tacit support. 

His reasoning seems to be along 'left-libertarian' lines (I'd love to be proven wrong if this is inaccurate), whereas a 'right-libertarian' would instead argue that the Jim Crow conformist business, like the subservient businesses in Nazi Germany, were no longer legitimate property owners (from the State's point of view) because they essentially acquiesed to a government (the Jim Crow state) that de jure engaged in social engineering (zoning laws and the like), and thus considered itself ultimate overseer of all property. If a business were not sufficiently racist, well then the good ol regulators would rectify that right away, and the business owner would essentially be a slave (I'm especially curious as to conditions in say, apartheid South Africa concerning this).

Both arguments are hardly different fundamentally.

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Wheylous replied on Sun, Sep 2 2012 12:02 AM

Sorry to deviate again, but on the topic of Jim Crow the more I learn the more infuriated I become. Many such laws were essentially slavery. And we dared call ourselves a free nation or a capitalist nation.

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Anenome replied on Sun, Sep 2 2012 12:19 AM
 
 

"this leads us to an interesting point, because I presume Charles Johnson is arguing that they are, on ethical grounds, no longer considered legitimate property owners because of their tacit support. Therefore, the sit-ins are justified because the protestors are fighting aggression and trespassing on 'illegitimate' property."

That doesn't reall work. Immoral views of an owner have nothing to do with their holding title on property or the circumstances of having received that title.

Now, title on property received as a result of exploiting slave labor would in fact be illegitimate title, but that's not the situation you propose here. A store owner simply being racist or having racist policies is doing something legal in a libertarian context but immoral.

Libertarians do not want the law to make moral judgments, only to protect property rights and stop invasion of property. Whether it is moral or immoral to be racist, libertarian legal code would have nothing to say. In fact, a real libertarian would uphold the right of free speech even in the case of difficult free speech, under the rubric that one owns their body and therefore their ability to speak (and of course the corollary that one does not have a right to be heard).

But, within the libertarian legal system, a libertarian could ethically take a sit-in to the point of forcing the store owner to kick him off the property by force, as a means of protest. It's his property, he can kick you off, and you can certainly force him to force you to leave by refusing to leave of your own power.

The biz owner would then hire police specialists whose job it would be to remove you without also aggressing against you, and probably ban you from the store ever again.

Which is great.

Because you want him to know that his stance is costing him your patronage. And by simply avoiding the place that message is not made explicit, nor is the owner publicly embarrassed by having to call the police on a dissenter sit-in, nor does he have to face embarassing media attention possibly.

As long as you do not cause any damages to his property, removing you should be all he can do to you. And then, point made. Get enough people to do that and word will spread quite quickly what's making various people mad at this biz owner.

 
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Cortes replied on Sun, Sep 2 2012 12:32 AM

Ok, I did misunderstand his argument so we might be beating up a strawman in that regard.

It is argued in the Richman piece (and from the 'market anarchist' defending it) that property is not made negligible simply based on the owner's ethics:

There IS a legit danger in making it the purview of some community/whatever to determine what kind of exclusions/expulsions individuals are allowed to make from their homes/spaces.

But I am still unsure of what the 'left-libertarian' justification for legit trespass (such as a sit-in protest) would be based on, so at the risk of making more strawmen I'll come back to this in a bit. Does my 'right-libertarian' argument rest on solid grounds?

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cab21 replied on Sun, Sep 2 2012 1:09 AM

i think protesting public spaces with sit in is more ok that private spaces.

then we go into legitimate private vs nonlegit private, so i think it's ok with nonlegit private space.

i dont exactly want a place that has a "no customers in the kitchen" policy have a flash mob have a sit in on the kitchen to protest the no customers in the kitchen policy. of course this also ties into the "do no harm" part of a nonviolent protest. i would not want a flashmob of smokers taking over a no smoking establishment, as that would be agreesive harm to the establishment.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensboro_sit-ins

now this says after the sit ins, there was a boycott of stores and the loss of profit is what changed the policy, im not sure how tied into the sit in it would be, other than perhaps the momentum of the sit in.

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Cortes replied on Wed, Sep 5 2012 7:09 PM

Bump.

My question still pertains to the context of the Civil Rights movement. Is the reasoning behind a sit-in protest to nullify the laws of a racist community sufficiently libertarian

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