Is Demographics Destiny in a Democracy?

Ideas and Issues National Politics Organizing Voting Rights

demographicsNew Orleans   On a radio interview I conducted on Friday discussing the impact of the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, the young man poignantly spoke about the isolation of young homosexuals in rural areas, compared to the relative freedom in the cities, even conservative cities. I then noticed a map in the Wall Street Journal looking at the estimated demographics underlying the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on the rights of homosexuals in America. States with very small populations were, as expected, in Western and some Southern states.  What was most interesting to me was being reminded how small the numbers were in all circumstances.   The range was essentially less than 3% of the population to more than 4%, which underscores the mammoth accomplishment of the political and civil rights task for gay and lesbians in America over the last 40 or 50 years in creating social change.

The viciousness of the oppression of African-Americans and even women lay partially in the interest of white men trying to hold onto self-certified, political and cultural entitlements that required terrible tactics because the impact of voting rights for either group, only won over the last 100 years for women and more than 50 for African-Americans, made their victories destiny throughout the country because women were a significant minority everywhere and in some areas African-Americans were a decided majority.   Once the right to vote was guaranteed to women, the clock has inevitably ticked towards freedom in a democracy no matter how many hours must pass. Few could doubt that there will be a woman president, the only questions are “who” and “when.”   The somersaults the Court played with the voting rights act proves that vigilance must be eternal, but practicality also will isolate the right in more and more extreme gymnastics from voter IDs to god knows what else to postpone the inevitable.   Similarly the huge and growing Hispanic population, regardless of the relatively small number of undocumented among them, dictates the inevitability of reform as this population acquires more and more political strength in areas where it is already in the majority and in other areas, even as Karl Rove points out, in conservative Republican bunkers in places like Georgia.

In a democracy, the haters always are their own undoing when it comes to the unstoppable movement to full political participation.   Looking at the significant, even if relatively small numbers of homosexuals in the country, as hate drove people underground and then to the cities as a Mecca for a fuller life, the smaller numerical strength would eventually amalgamate into some political influence on the urban map.   If you were going to be an elected official over the last 50 years and represent the Castro District, Montrose, the French Quarter, or Greenwich Village, you had to be ready to represent your ENTIRE constituency.   Or, of course you could not do that and wait until you were kicked to the curb, because politics, as we know, is very local.

So victory is inevitable, the organizing problem is the damnably long timelines to achieve it and the daily damage that discrimination does to people and the country itself that comes from the deep, deep impact of justice delayed.   The cultural problem that infects American politics in this time of polarity is the fact that we have too many trying to wage a last stand for something that is dying  and stand in the schoolhouse door.  As organizers and progressives though, we have to do a better job of getting out our message of the inevitability of victory in order to support and spark more mass-based work to shorten the timetables. Only movements are able to accelerate these types of changes, not the slow, grinding work of politics, regardless of how important politics is in determining the inevitability of final victory.