I know thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands, were put out by Monday afternoon’s Martin Luther King Day blockade on the Bay Bridge. Or at least upset that the one day they might have expected light traffic, their trip across the span was disrupted.

But I’m also remembering one veteran of past human rights struggles who would have loved the protest — put on by a black gay liberation group called Black.Seed — and probably would have wanted to be in the middle of it.

That person was my uncle, Bill Hogan, an activist Catholic priest in the Chicago archdiocese through a succession of movements, starting with black civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s and continuing through the fight to end the Vietnam War, the nuclear disarmament campaigns of the 1970s and ’80s and others.

Bill paid a price for his unswerving commitment. He was suspended without pay for defying orders to quit the streets (and stop getting arrested) and tend to his pastoral duties. Of course, he thought his flock was everywhere on the streets. While he was on the outs with the archdiocese, he drove a cab, for years, to make ends meet.

But let’s get back to the Bay Bridge shutdown on Monday, called as part of an ongoing effort by Black Lives Matter groups and allies to, as they put it, reclaim the activist legacy of Martin Luther King. How can I be so sure Bill would have embraced the protest?

Back on the evening of May 8, 1972, President Richard Nixon announced he had just ordered the mining of several North Vietnamese ports and the bombing of the country’s rail links with China, moves intended to pressure the government in Hanoi to return to peace talks.

Anti-war activists in the United States took to the streets the next day. One group in Chicago went a little further than that. They decided they’d blockade the morning commute, or at least part of it.

Bill Hogan, my uncle, along with maybe 30 compatriots from an anti-war group, climbed into a small fleet of cars and steered them into the eastbound lanes of Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway, the main commute route into downtown from the western suburbs. Once the cars were abreast of each other, they slowed to a stop. Then Bill and the other drivers got out, disabled the ignitions, and waited for the police to arrive. Well, in Bill’s case, he’d tipped off a radio reporter, who arrived on the scene for a live interview.

In other words, it was a protest virtually identical to the one that stopped Monday afternoon traffic on the westbound Bay Bridge.

And the results? Well, that war ended, though it would be foolish to think that one protest moved the needle much. But in Bill Hogan’s world, there was no such thing as taking a pass when it was time to take a stand. And he would have pointed out the expressway action didn’t happen in a vacuum — it was part of a continuum of protests that went on for years and involved millions of people.

On another occasion, he disrupted a planned public discussion on the war in which he was supposed to face off with two ROTC colonels.

“Look,” he said afterward, “this war is not really a debatable question. … We succeeded in getting everyone in the audience arguing over what we did. That’s what will finally end this war, everyone arguing.”

The Rev. Bill Hogan is arrested during a school desegregation protest in Chicago, circa 1965.
The Rev. Bill Hogan is arrested during a school desegregation protest in Chicago, circa 1965.

You need look no further than our Facebook posts on Monday’s protest — here and here — to see that the Bay Bridge shutdown got people arguing. And angry. Most comments express some degree of outrage at the blockade, often alloyed with sentiments along the lines of, “I support the cause, but not when idiotic people do something like this.”

I’m in no position to say how far the Bay Bridge blockade bends the arc of the moral universe toward justice. But I can say that the Martin Luther King Day protesters are right: King’s career was about confronting injustice directly — and discomfort and inconvenience to the world at large was not a consideration.

In 1956, troubled by violence that forced the first black student enrolled at the University of Alabama to leave campus, King preached a sermon reflecting on the kind of “peace” achieved by knuckling under to the demands of white supremacy. He said:

In a very profound passage which has been often misunderstood, Jesus utters this: He says, “Think not that I am come to bring peace. I come not to bring peace but a sword.”

… What He is saying is: “I come not to bring this peace of escapism, this peace that fails to confront the real issues of life, the peace that makes for stagnant complacency.”

Then He says, “I come to bring a sword” — not a physical sword. Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come to declare war over injustice. I come to declare war on evil. Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force -–war, tension, confusion — but it is the presence of some positive force -–justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.

And King concluded:

… Yes, it is true that if the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be a peace boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity, and if peace means this, I don’t want peace.

If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it.
If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.

So in a passive, nonviolent manner, we must revolt against this peace.

Activism, Inconvenience and Echoes of Protest History on the Bay Bridge 21 January,2016Dan Brekke

  • Ryan

    I didn’t read the article, too much history BS.

    I don’t care what these people are protesting. Endangering everyone’s lives by making people suddenly stop on freeways just so these losers can feel like they’ve made a point is reckless and a waste of others time.

    And its just bound to happen that one of these idiots gets run over, but then again that’s probably what they want ~ to make even more headline news.

    POLICE DO YOUR JOBS, arrest these fools.

    To the fools themselves, you think this is how you win over the public? F#&K YOU!

    • Matthew Cacophony

      They were arrested.

    • Mark D’Ottavio

      Evidently you not a person of color nor have compassion for all the folks MURDERED on the streets of America by LEO.

      Perhaps you too stupid to read the article but the bile flying outta yer pie hole is astonishingly dimwitted and telling of your own anger and ignorance.

      • Ryan

        There are ways of doing things that will enlist others help in your cause. You, evidently agree with this tactic that does nothing more than bring negative attention to the BLM.

        I care more about the schedules and appointments of the innocent folks stuck in traffic, who are obeying the law.

        Then again the BLM is a joke anyway, considering that black on black crime is the real problem and elephant in the room no one wants to talk about.

        But please go on telling me how I’m just an out of touch white person.

        • Mark D’Ottavio

          You’re simply a fool.

          • Ryan

            Don’t agree with me, I could care less. You’re the one siding with idiots blocking traffic accomplishing nothing.

          • Mark D’Ottavio

            Get back to history class. Nothing of significant change will ever be realized without dissent and attendant demonstrations for REAL problems. We stopped the War in Viet Nam, we attained Woman’s Rights, We ended the draft, we protested until something was done. What’s your solution to the problem? My guess that you lack the intellectual chops to remotely understand that.

          • Ryan

            Woman voting or a war of attrition are problems everyone faces and that’s why its dealt with. This only affects a subset of one race, as highlighted by the BLM. Hench its support is lacking.

            But please, why don’t you describe the problem to me? It sounds like you say its LEO killing black people. Which accounts for nearly nothing when compared to the black on black crimes and murders committed.

            Why are you cherry picking the causes of black peoples problems?

            My solution is personal accountability, but it starts in the neighborhoods these folks grow up in the and role models (or lack thereof) they have.
            But then again you just want to stamp your feet and make ripples in the water instead of making a positive change right?

          • Mark D’Ottavio

            Completely acknowledge Black on Black crimes. That is legitimate and must be addressed concurrently like mental health is to gun control. I’m from the Bay and if you understand anything about social change please bone up on Berkeley from mid last century on.

            Police are killing black folks with impunity. It’s outrageous and the BLM endeavors to bring that fact to the forefront. One group if people are deeply impacted by that and it’s usually folks of color.

            Personal accountability in a nice concept but can you imagine being “black” where any black family’s #1 concern is _their_ child being killed by the police – it’s a REAL problem. So if we suspend our inert predigest and recognizing this is a disservice to all people when we refuse to acknowledge what going on.

            I’m pro LEO but I never ever call em.

      • Robert

        Right. And what they did will solve everything. Maybe they’ll do it again. Or perhaps right in front of your house. Selfish.

        • Mark D’Ottavio

          They have, in Oakland. No problem here, I guess LEO shooting folks is okay with you. Perhaps someone you love will be MURDERED by LEO’s and perhaps you’ll get a modicum of compassion – highly doubtful.

          • Ryan

            Folks following orders and not breaking the law don’t get shot.

            I’ve never been shot, my friends haven’t, no one in my family or even extended family has. Maybe when you aren’t looking for trouble you don’t find it. Its highly doubtful it will ever happen because I’m a law abiding citizen, no “thug life” here.

          • Mark D’Ottavio

            Broad bush from a narrow mind. Easier to dismiss and hate than using reason. Again, hope you or your loved ones are not MURDERED by the police.

          • Ryan

            You keep trying to use inflammatory words like MURDERED to try and white wash every action by LEO as a negative. Talk about a broad brush from a weak mind.

            I’ve watched plenty of video where idiots get themselves in trouble by not following orders.

  • Ignatius Ibsage

    black lives splatter; the donald matters.

  • Paul

    When is the government and police going to, as a law abiding citizen and tax payer,
    going to respect my rights to go shopping, travel, etc. without all
    this protest BS going on.

  • awotter

    Because it’s more fun to protest than provide.

    • Ryan

      If they had jobs they might have had somewhere to be, like all the poor folks stuck in traffic.

  • Figjam_US

    Yes, of course black health matters (which was what was on the sign) as does everyone else. Maybe it’s more prevalent than is published but why aren’t influential blacks helping others work their way out of poverty? If they are out there working, why doesn’t it get more coverage?

    Why are republicans constantly trying to reduce the public safety net and funds to education instead of fortifying them?

    Not until we get back to acting like one society instead of so many disparate parts will we achieve greatness.

  • Bruwer

    this is 100% Democratic Party created domestic terrirorist group, key leader of the group need to jail, Period

    • Marcus

      No this group most certainly is not liberal or progressive. These people are everything progressiveness is not. They are racist bigots with no education who want to bring racism back by pointing out race. MLK (although not as great as people believe) at least believed in the idea that race should not be used as a crutch. These people would be hated by MLK and anyone who believes in equality.

      They do not represent us (democrats) and are a very small minority of people akin to how republicans also include KKK members.

  • Marcus

    Please note these idiots are not liberals or progressives. Liberals believe in equality, these people want inequality in favor of specific races. They are RACISTS! They might vote democrat but they are not part of us any more than the KKK represents the republican party.

  • pfesser

    It’s really simple: put your car in low gear so that people who wish to do so can move out of the way, lock your doors and add fuel. Plow through the crowd at about 4mph, but don’t stop so that they can turn your car over. Rinse and repeat.

  • DAVID BURRILL

    Brilliant, block roads, airports, and malls and turn white people that have no problem with the black community into hating the black community just as brilliant as the blacks putting a “A” to the end of a word based in hatred and calling each other it.

  • PatrickMonkRn

    Pettus Bridge redux. Remember Selma.

  • This article was acceptable until you dragged MLK into it. Unlike anti-war protesters of yesteryear and anti-police protesters today, MLK was capable of preparing a list of specific, obtainable demands that led to an overarching goal. If you’re going to inconvenience us, fine, but don’t give us a vague goal and leave it at that.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

Email Dan at: dbrekke@kqed.org

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