The United States has a long tradition of underground groups agitating for social change. From the nascent workers movement of the late 1800s to the Wobblies of the early 20th century and all the way to the Civil Rights Era, America has been disproportionately shaped by citizen activism and underground cultural currents.
Yet one thing that almost all of those underground movements of old had in common was a clear vision and common purpose, which was usually unambiguously good for those who they purported to help. For example, no one would ever have doubted that Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad were great services for slaves, who were often able to escape brutal conditions where they enjoyed no freedoms at all and start a new life in Canada as full citizens.
Even in some more marginal cases, the benefits to the groups being fought for was clear. John Brown may have gotten himself hanged and tens of his followers killed outright by militia. But he also sparked off a war that saw every black man, woman and child permanently emancipated from slavery, Mr. Brown’s lifelong, obsessive goal. Similarly, we see that, even in cases like the Pullman Strike, where many workers lost their lives, their efforts were not without recompense. The labor movement in the United States eventually led to a period of workers being treated better than perhaps anywhere else on Earth.
But today’s movements often lack that clarity of purpose or consistency of results. A recent visit by Heather MacDonald to Claremont McKenna College was shut down by Black Lives Matter. What was Mrs. MacDonald’s transgression? She had been studying police killings of blacks and had concluded that the number of blacks killed by police, relative to the number of blacks killed by other blacks, is completely insignificant. Rather than engaging with this uncomfortable and undeniable truth, the student group opted instead to shoot the messenger. There is increasing evidence that BLM-style agitation has gotten more than 5,000 blacks killed since 2015.