A study of Red Meme Empowerment Pro’s and Con’s

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began in Shaw University in 1960. It began as a pro-integration Orange Meme organization to fight segregation and increase voting rights. The organization began to build coalitions with other civil rights organizations and the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, these “allies” undermined the goals of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which led to a more militant path going forward for the organization. In 1969, the organization renamed itself the Student National Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became Red meme and separatist. SNCC became closely associated with the world-wide communist movement this led to isolation and the ultimate dissolving of the organization.

SNCC’s accumulated much recognition and praise for successfully organizing Freedom Rides. Freedom Rides took busloads of protesters to heavily segregated southern communities to hold sit-ins. A system of “participatory democracy”  was used to organized these rides. Each member got to speak for as long as necessary in meetings were held before bus departure. They wanted to ensure every member fully understood the danger of the task and was fully committed to the trip. This type of organizing led to tremendous success and national acclaim.

Their prominence led Dr. Martin Luther King to tap them along with many other organizations to aid in organizing “The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”. SNCC came to King’s aid with the understanding that the March would petition the government to give jobs and voting rights to black people. SNCC was severely critical of the Kennedy Administration for not doing enough for civil rights. King was working with the Kennedy administration on the new civil rights bill, yet not consulting SNCC or the other organizations on what needed to be in the bill. As the organization of the march progressed the focus moved away from jobs and freedom to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. The 1964 Civil Rights Bill did have provisions to ensure black people had voting rights, but there was no federal enforcement of those rights. The bill forbade the South from keeping black people from voting, but if they did not comply there would not be repercussions from the Federal Government. SNCC’s original stance on the 1964 bill was “Cannot Support” they later had to change the stance to “Support with Reservations”.

SNCC learned from the March on Washington that they needed their voice heard in Washington, DC. Voter Registration was a specialty of SNCC in the 1960’s. In 1964 SNCC organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The goal of MFDP was to get delegates elected to the Democratic National Convention that would represent the disenfranchised poor of the South. The election of MFDP delegates was a threat to the party establishment. Republican Goldwater and Segregationist George Wallace threatened the election of President Johnson. Johnson used moderate Civil Rights leaders such as King to soften the MFDP and simultaneously put SNCC under government surveillance as a clandestine organization. Johnson then proposed a compromise in which the MFDP would get two non-voting seats in the DNC and give the two that they rightfully won to the Democratic establishment. Due to pressure from all sides, the MFDP was forced to accept the Johnson compromise.

The final straw came in 1965. SNCC had created an alliance with Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to increase black voter registration in the South. A march was organized from Selma to Montgomery and involved crossing Edmund Pettis Bridge. White Citizens Council opposed the march. Ideological differences between the SCLC and SNCC came to a head over the crossing of the bridge. The SCLC decided that the crossing was too risky, and SNCC continued with the demonstration alone. The result was “Bloody Sunday” in which led to the injury of many protesters and one protester being left unconscious.

At this point, the SCLC felt it could not continue with business as usual. To explain the issue with Spiral Dynamics the  SCLC was experiencing too much disorder as an Orange Meme organization. Its options at this point were to reconstitute at a different Meme. The organization could not move to the Green Meme. The Green Meme would entail building up more coalitions. At this point, there was no proof that coalition building results in advancement. They could not go back to Blue Meme which would be accepting of traditional society and the status quo. That left only one option, Red Meme.

Red Meme, as stated in an earlier blog post, is chiefly about building and solidification of the ego. On a personal level, it allows a person to develop their authentic self. It can also cause selfish behavior and angry outburst. These traits will also be true on the macroscopic scale.

So as the year of 1965 progressed two factions sprung up. One that wanted to continue the nonviolent organizing (Orange) and the other beginning to move towards more militancy (Red). This movement frightened many in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that was usually sympathetic to SNCC. An internal coup d’etat by the moderates in SNCC was attempted to arrest power from the more radical wing. The coup was unsuccessful.

Stokley Carmicheal was elected chairman in 1965. He officially changed the focus of the organization from integration and voting rights to the more ambiguous “black power”. One of his early acts was the purging of white members of SNCC. Most were dubiously loyal to SNCC and the Democratic Party. Carmicheal wanted members that were fully committed not only to SNCC but the overall black struggle. In 1967, Carmicheal attempted to forge an alliance between the Black Panthers and SNCC. The attempt turns out to be a failure and the attempt leads to Carmicheal’s voluntary resignation.

Lowndes County, Alabama was one of the first places where SNCC took on a more militant tone. When SNCC started the voter registration drive there, the county did not have one registered black voter. The lack of black voters was due to a massive Ku Klux Klan presence. SNCC organizers in this county openly carried weapons for protection. The phrase “Black Power” was beginning to be used by more and more by SNCC members. The voter registration drive was ultimately successful and led to the registering of 2500 black voters.

Despite continued success, SNCC faced bankruptcy in 1967. The overt militancy caused many wealthy white donors to leave. SNCC also began to lose many prominent leaders. Moderate black leaders in SNCC transitioned to the Democratic party. Many of the more radical leaders went directly to the Black Panther Party. SNCC had to respond to a much widening political arena. It became difficult to recruit new members.  By 1967, many blacks in the South were able to get corporate and government jobs and did not want to have their livelihood threatened by FBI investigators. By the 1970’s the group ultimately disbanded.

In conclusion, as SNCC aligned more with the Red Value Meme they solidified their identity at the expense of important strategic alliances. They found themselves isolated from moderate progressives and radicals. Isolation is a common problem in the Red Meme and causes movement up the spiral. In this case, there were blocks to the Blue Value Meme (Traditional), Orange Value Meme (Capitalist/Socialist), and Green Value Meme (World-centric). SNCC’s state of Arrested Red Meme was caused by the blockage of other memes.  For more on the Arrested versus Closed state read Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics.

Arrested Meme State is a state in which a person or organization is blocked by trauma and cannot move to the next Meme State. Closed Meme State is when an individual or organization understands the Meme States above and below it and chooses not to move. SNCC had trauma in Orange and Blue that prevented the movement into Green which is dependent on healthy transition through the previous states. The trauma caused a regression regarding the Spiral. Preventing Spiral Regression is why it is so important to fight racism. It is impeding the collective enlightenment of the country.


The page above is a personal blog that is not an official Spiral Dynamics Blog. The work of Clare Graves and Don Beck is the basis for this article. For more information on Spiral Dynamics, please go to the website below.