It’s always a hard to understand in the moment if a form of direct action is helping or hurting the cause. Sitting in at lunch counters is now understood to be heroic and important. But at the time, even some of those who supported civil rights weren’t so sure. Disrupting speeches of those you oppose seems to me to be always bad form and counter to an open-minded university and community. The Dow disruption, while ugly, probably ended up being a positive for the movement to end the war. The Sterling Hall bombing was seen by most to be criminal, morally wrong and extremely counter-productive.
And the sing-along? Time will tell. Clearly, both sides see advantage in continuing the confrontation because either side could end it tomorrow if they wanted to. Solidarity Sing Along participants see the confrontation as giving front-page attention to their cause, while the Walker administration apparently sees advantage in providing red meat for his base of conservative supporters.
But there’s one last lesson from Levin’s history that is worth noting. Ralph Hanson was the UW police chief during much of the campus unrest. Hanson was there on the front lines himself and the protestors came to know and like him. No one knows how many potentially violent confrontations were diffused because of that human relationship.
By contrast, hard line Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin is nowhere to be found at the daily protests. He has developed no relationship or dialogue at all with the people who attend them. So, he has become easy to hate as the devil they don’t know.
One step toward resolution, if that is actually wanted by either side, would be for Erwin to meet with the sing-along participants and listen to their message, try to get to know and understand them, and then share his perspective. That in itself won’t end the confrontation, but it might lessen the tensions and head off any serious physical confrontations down the road. It’s much harder to hate the devil you know.