Who the Hell is Diane Nash?

 

“Who the hell is Diane Nash?”

Attorney General Robert Kennedy had this question for his assistant in 1961, when young men and women, both black and white, boarded buses to head into the heart of Dixie to test segregation laws. Klansmen had already firebombed one bus, holding the doors closed to try and kill the riders. Mobs attacked them. People beat the riders with iron pipes. Kennedy’s assistant, John Seigenthaler, described the rides as “a war zone.”

Nevertheless, a young black woman named Diane Nash helped lead a second wave of nonviolent protesters boarding the buses. She signed her last will and testament before stepping on board.

Her brave act of civil disobedience, along with the other Freedom Riders, changed the world.

Flash forward 50 years. Gulfport beach. A group of folks wait for the police to arrest them or, at the least, write them a ticket. They use the phrase “civil rights” and “civil disobedience” as they stage their protest.

What did they protest? A ban on smoking on the beach. Last year city council passed a law banning tobacco use on the beach and in certain other outdoor public areas. This small group of men and women gathered to protest Gulfport trouncing their civil rights. A lawyer represented them, puffing on a wet brown cigar. The group planned to get tickets to test the law in court.

It took them two tries, but the police granted the lawyer’s wish and wrote him a ticket for smoking. I heard Alice’s Restaurant in my head. What a joke, I thought.

Turns out, the joke’s on me. This is, after all, America: whine loud enough and threaten to sue long enough and you’ll get your way eventually. A Sarasota County judge overturned Sarasota’s nonsmoking beach ordinance last month, and since Gulfport modeled its law around Sarasota’s, the city opted to revoke the smoking ban rather than face the attorney in court.

In its purest form, this was indeed civil disobedience. I won’t argue that. Bearing that in mind, I say this to those group:

Congratulations! You’ve won the right to smoke on the beach!

Wait, that’s not right.

You disgust me.

Yes, that feels right.

You cried and kicked like a spoiled toddler until you got your way, and I want to vomit every time I think of it. Smoking is not a civil right; you’ve done nothing more than become so much of a pest that the city changed a law most of the taxpayers either wanted or didn’t care about having in place. You did not change the world; you simply preserved the right for people to give themselves lung cancer in public.

I don’t care if you want to give yourself cancer. That’s not my issue. My issue is that smoking is not now and never will be a civil right. That was just the shield many (although not all) of the protesters hid behind. It seems to me, though, that a few of the organizers may have had a chip on their shoulder – perhaps rightly so, perhaps not – regarding former vice mayor David Hastings. I would wager that many in this group so much couldn’t stand Mr. Hastings that, had he advocated protecting smokers rights, this same group of civil disobedients would have hired a lawyer to sue the city for putting their health in danger. While I can see why people may not like him, isn’t a little disingenuous to hold a city hostage and compromise the well-being of the many for a political pissing match of the few?

You have just cheapened the act of civil disobedience of Diane Nash and the Freedom Riders. You cheapened it for every man and woman who fought for safer working conditions in the 1930s. You’ve cheapened it for the gay couple who may want to challenge laws saying their love is wrong. These types of civil disobedients break the law because they believe they could change the world. They would die for their beliefs. Can any one person who protested look me in the eye and say they would die for their right to smoke on the beach? Can you honestly say that if the current vice mayor and not the former had suggested this law you would be just as hot to protest it?

Robert Kennedy asked his assistant “Who the hell is Diane Nash?” when he heard about her plans to ride an integrated bus into the segregated south. The irony became apparent later, when everyone knew Ms. Nash’s name as a result of her acts. She and the rest of the Freedom Riders risked their lives for racial equality. To put yourself on their level because of a personal vendetta?

Well, then, I would have to ask: Who the hell are you?

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.


 
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Member Opinions:
By: RobFowler on 1/21/13

You dangle the fat juicy worm. I know are a Florida woman who loves to fish and catch the whopper.

:)

I am a civil libertarian. As thus, I am often defending rights of those who disgust me, but I am who I am, and I am a civil libertarian through and through. I have been most of my adult life, and even as young as my early teen years. Jefferson is one of my idols. I believe in your rights and will defend them.

I do agree that smoking on the beach when non-smokers or kids are around is socially unacceptable. However, I do not believe our government or any other entity should have the right to chip away at any of our civil liberties because they are unpopular at the moment. Social conscious should teach us how to behave. Smokers should have respect for non-smokers.

“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”
― Henry David Thoreau

I know I am taking a position that will cost me respect and possibly even friendship in this town I love, which it already has, but I am not a fake. I speak my mind and cannot with any self-respect do otherwise. Over the past decades, I have taken a toll for being a firm supporter of personal rights that I even find disagreeable to my own standards. Of course, Cathy, I am speaking of the right to free speech as much as other unpopular rights.

As a journalist, how would you feel if the City Council of Gulfport, and 90% of the people dictated what you could say in public? “Shut up, Cathy, by the laws of Gulfport we demand of you regardless of the United States Constitution.”

Cathy, count on me to defend your right to say whatever you want at any time you want. Period. If I don’t like what you say, I hope you defend my right to say what I want to say back. I sincerely hope we both have the tight to do that for the rest of our lives.
Will I stand up and argue for Nazis to speak? Yes. Do I agree with what they say? Hell, no. But if I support taking away their right to speak, I am supporting taking away my right to speak someday. And my right might be taken away sooner.

Shake-speare in Sonnet 66 (a very important sonnet) wrote it well in 1609 when even his voice (Sir Francis Bacon in my opinion) was subdued by the threat of having one’s head chopped off:

And arte made tung-tide by authoritie,
And Folly (Doctor-like) controuling skill,
And simple-Truth miscalled Simplicitie,
And captiue-good attending Captaine ill.

Do I feel people should smoke on the beach around non-smokers? No. Do I believe people should smoke around non-smokers anywhere? No. I wouldn’t do that, but that is not due to any law, but due to respect for others.

From the first emergence of the Gulfport Smoking Ban discussion I suggested that we put out signs that say, “Please, do not smoke on our beach.” No cost to the City as far as legal fees or lawsuits, no infringement on rights of citizens, no burden to our police who have real crime to deal with, and probably would be as effective if not more than a pseudo-legal or ill-conceived politically motivated ban that anyone who could do a fair Google search of Florida laws would not believe would fly.

The saddest result of this fiasco was the total demise of the most unified movement I have ever seen in Gulfport – to clean up the litter on the beach and around town. The divisions have been deep and permanent, splitting our community when so much positive was developing. What a sad shame. Will Gulfport ever have the collective energy again that was born for that brief powerful moment?

I doubt any of the “Nash’s of the Gulfport Smoking Ban” had any interest in smoking on Gulfport Beach. They are heroes, however much hated, for us few remaining civil libertarians who are 100% Americans and valuable tax payers fighting for your rights as much as ours. Hate us, but we will still fight for you because we believe and will stand up for your civil rights, even if we don’t like them.

Cathy, chip away at our rights, or “their” rights, no matter how small, seemingly unimportant, or socially unpopular, and one day we will have none left to defend. Sadly, we are heading in that direction faster than I care to think about. Fewer of us speak up because it is so hard to be publically attacked by the masses, the media, or even a highly vocal minority.