Here is one member of Congress making the comparison:
We shall overcome.
Rep. Alan Grayson (@AlanGrayson) June 23, 2016
The media absolutely ate it up.
There are three major reasons the comparison fails.
1) Democrats Are Fighting Against Civil Rights
Perhaps the most obvious is that instead of fighting for civil rights, House Democrats are fighting against civil rights. The main thing Grayson wants to overcome is due process protections, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. There’s also the right to keep and bear arms, the natural right to self defense that is also enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. It is a right inherent to the Declaration of Independence, and the bulwark against tyranny. Given that the legislation being pushed for — which would allow the government to use a secret, extra-judicial list to deny gun rights to certain American citizens — could easily be used to target certain ethnic and religious minorities, there are Fourteenth Amendment concerns as well.
2) Democrats Face No Risk For Their Stance
The civil rights movement quite consciously broke laws. Participants knew they were breaking laws and took that lawbreaking very seriously. They knew they would face jail and other persecution for their acts. But they believed that laws mandating segregation were unjust. They were beaten, arrested, and assaulted. It took tremendous courage to take on unjust laws.
The worst construction of the stunt pulled by House Democrats is that it was a fundraising and public relations effort, proven by the fact that Democratic colleagues in the Senate voted against a bill that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases while also preserving constitutional guarantees of due process rights.
The best construction is that Democrats really felt they were bringing much-needed attention to the fight against gun violence. Even so, what law did they break? What persecution did they face for occupying their own place of employment? They raised money, were served pop-tarts, macademia nuts and pizza, and given pillows to rest their heads on during their
brutal day-long sit-in. They received media acclaim and support. They suffered not at all, except for aging hips and knees creaking as they got up from their criss-cross applesauce positions on the carpeted floor.
3) Democrats Have Yet To Appeal To A Higher Authority To Justify Civil Disobedience
The main reason the comparison fails is that our Democratic stunt-pullers failed to make the case that they were appealing to a higher law. Civil rights activists justified their own breaking of laws and norms because they believed they had the moral high ground based on higher laws. Those higher laws included the natural law on which the Declaration and U.S. Constitution were written, the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Supreme Court rulings on equality.
As Twitter user Billmon1, a writer from the Left who is worried about due process violations, put it on Twitter, “Civil rights activists did not dispute that they were deliberately breaking the law, and were willing to be jailed for it. Nor did civil rights activists dispute that breaking the law was a serious step — one that could encourage others to do the same. But, again, the argument was that a higher law — a compelling moral purpose, backed by the U.S. Constitution — was at stake.”
He goes on to note that using a sit-in protest to attempt to disrupt House proceedings and contest the majority’s right to control the flow of legislation stakes an even bigger claim than civil rights leaders made. The Democrats directly attacked the legislative principle that the majority has the right to rule. “Does [the] moral claim asserted — demand for votes on background checks & misnamed ‘no fly no buy’ — justify that action?” he asks.
To have even a hope of laying claim to the moral high ground, Democrats need to explain what higher authority than natural law, the Declaration, the Bill of Rights, Supreme Court rulings, etc., they are appealing to in order to justify their actions. They haven’t even begun to do so.
Until such time as they satisfy these problems, no journalist or onlooker should devalue the work of civil rights heroes by making comparisons to their important and dangerous work in favor of justice.