Pat Ramsey, an SDLP MLA for Foyle, has called for wide participation in a commemoration of the original Civil Rights March in Derry in 1969. The commemerative march is to take place on Saturday 2nd October. Here he outlines what the original movement meant to him and his party, and how he believes they might be interpreted in contemporary Northern Ireland.
From Pat Ramsey
It is important that we do not let three decades of violence and armed action cloud our vision of what 5th October 1969 was all about.
First of all, it was about seeking fair play while rejecting the ways of violence: the speakers and organisers on the day made very clear that they did not want the support of anyone who wanted to stir up trouble of any kind. The Civil Rights Association went to great lengths to instil the principles and methods of non-violence into its many thousands of supporters, with great success.
Secondly, we sought civil and human rights for all. We did not seek to
further our own political objectives, but rather to win the udisputed right for all to pursue their objectives by peaceful means. We eplicitly rejected the idea that civil rights was a purely nationalist cause; we wanted and invited the support of unionists who would subscribe to the principles of equality, and we were not without success in this area.
We need to be perfectly clear that the people who pursued the ways of
violence, whatever justification they might claim in terms of the actions of the RUC or the British Army, were acting directly against the civil rights movement. The mass movement for civil rights was driven off the streets, but not by the authorities. They never succeeded in doing that. It was the gunmen who put the people off the streets. We must reclaim the streets from the gunmen.
Now, in 2004, we are confronted with new challenges to civil and human rights. People are being openly attacked on our streets because of their lifestyle choices. People are being attacked because of the colour of their skin or because of their national or ethnic background. We are being attacked in our homes and offices because we offer political leadership and service to our constituents.
The right that we marched and struggled for in 1969, the right to elect and be led by our own representatives, is being denied us, not by some distant government in Stormont or London, but by tiny groups of self-appointed generals with no public support who would maim and kill. Worse still, they would profane the concept of civil rights in a vain attempt to justify their actions.