Tag Archives: change

Change is Messy

Little Rock       One takeaway from the memorials to civil rights leader and organizer, Congressman John Lewis, has been the repeated invocation of the violence that was the handmaiden of the struggle.  Martin Luther King, Jr. preached nonviolence to anyone who would listen, and, tactically, that became the norm and how the movement is remembered, despite Rap Brown’s famous quote that “violence is as American as apple pie,” and the iconic pictures of the Black Panthers, armed to the teeth.  Only some people listened.  The near death beatdown administered to Lewis – and many others – on the Pettis Bridge is a vivid reminder of the prices paid in blood for rights that existed only on paper.

Making change is messy.  It’s not pretty.  It’s not silky smooth, it’s sandpaper rough.  What’s the old saying?  “Laws are like sausages.  Better not to see them being made.”  The quotation is often attributed to Germany’s Otto Von Bismarck, the famous chancellor.  Others date the expression to the mid-19th century.  It doesn’t matter when it was first uttered, it’s as true today as it was then.  Part of the what makes this a chaotic process is that when changing laws are driven by external forces, like all of us, outside the halls of government it is often a case of the immovable object versus the irresistible force.

We have to do what it takes to make change.  Force is involved, whether iron-fisted or pattycake.

Susan Schiff, a historian writing for the New York Times offered a great reminder of how the winners often – and with help – whitewash the blood and thunder out of the process of change.  She writes,

In the history books… we generally sanitize the violence that preceded the Declaration. Even before de Tocqueville, it had been preferable to subscribe to his account of the Revolution, a contest that “contracted no alliance with the turbulent passions of anarchy” and that proceeded “by a love of order and law.”  De Tocqueville gave Boston a pass. Well before the 1760s, imperial officials were run out of town. Effigies hung from trees and fueled bonfires. Townspeople broke windows and hurled stones. They tarred and feathered. They smeared the homes of their enemies in dung. In 1765, amid the Stamp Act protests, a “lawless rabble” dismantled most of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Georgian mansion in a matter of hours…Called to account for the vandalism, patriot leaders like Samuel Adams denounced the destruction…. On the one hand, a people’s rights were under siege. Looking ahead to future generations, Adams labored to define what John Lewis would two centuries later term “good trouble.” If the Bostonians remained silent, Adams warned, they assented to their losses.

At ACORN we always used to say if we had a dollar for everyone who ever said that they agreed with our demands, but they opposed our tactics, we would have been swimming in money.  I’m not arguing the ends justify the means, because that is never the case, but I am arguing that the means achieve the ends.  It’s not for everybody, but we are obligated to do what works by whatever means necessary.

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Signs of Caution and Hope from Conservative Critics

New Orleans      Watchwords for all of us in this work have always included “know your enemy” and “keep them close.”  It is impossible to keep up in these days and times with all the right’s rage and social media screed, but some effort has to be made.  I try to at least read some of their more easily accessible voices, particularly columnists in the major papers, so I have a clue to the cleaned-up version of some of the elite conservative crud.  In the same way that the old saying holds that even a broken clock is right twice a day, sometimes in a shocking pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment, they even align almost perfectly with my own views and fears recently.

David Brooks, a never-Trump conservative and cultural columnist for the New York Times became a prominent footnote to the power of the current national moment when he opined that moderate leadership has failed.  Yes, he was stating the obvious, but more significantly he admitted what none of the elites or common political wisdom has been very willing to concede: education is not the path to equity.  This has been the policy panacea for conservatives and liberals seemingly forever, and it has demonstrably proven itself inadequate as a mass solution.  Brooks throwing in the towel is a sign of hope that we may finally be able to have a real conversation.

Peggy Noonan who occupies a similar place at the Wall Street Journal is a hardcore conservative with credentials that go way back, and usually defaults to sweeten her positions with a “can’t we all be friends” plea for civility, tried to change cultural colors the other day.  She wrote a full-column fan letter to Bob Dylan, who many of us on the other side of the spectrum claim as one of our own, no matter the contradictions.

Just when we might think there is hope, we have to confront the fact that our worst fears are also recognized, when Ross Douthat, a more decisive and shrewd apologist for the right and conservative cutthroat when it comes to eviscerating arguments from all sides, voices them fully as he did in a column recently called, “The Second Defeat of Bernie Sanders.”  Trigger warning!  This is going to scare all of you to the degree he is spot on in expressing cautions for this moment.

He argues the following particularly about the Black Lives Matter movement,

  • …longer arc of the current revolutionary moment may actually end up vindicating the socialist critique of post-1970s liberalism — that it’s obsessed with cultural power at the expense of economic transformation, and that it puts the language of radicalism in the service of elitism.

  • …more unifying than the Sanders revolution precisely because it isn’t as threatening to power.

  • anti-racism as a cultural curriculum, a rhetoric of re-education, is relatively easy to fold into the mechanisms of managerialism….”

  • … revolutionaries need scapegoats …. to retire with prejudice. But they aren’t out to dissolve Harvard or break up Google or close The New York Times; they’re out to rule these institutions, with more enlightenment than the old guard but the same fundamental powers.

  • … few powerful people will feel particularly threatened if the purge of Confederate monuments widens….

  • …likely endgame of all this turbulence is the redistribution of elite jobs, the upward circulation of the more racially diverse younger generation, the abolition of perceived impediments to the management of elite diversity (adieu, SAT) and the inculcation of a new elite language whose academic style will delineate the professional class more decisively from the unenlightened proles below.

  • The promise of the Sanders campaign was that the insights of the older left, on class solidarity above all, could alter this depressing future and make the newer left something more than a handmaiden of oligarchy, a diversifier of late capitalism’s corporate boards.

Finally, and pointedly, Douthat reminds that “even for woke capital, capitalism comes first.”

If the shoe fits, wear it.  Don’t tell me some of his critique doesn’t come too close to home and speak to the same worries many of us have about whether or not this moment can turn into the kind of social change, justice, and equity that we’ve fought and dreamed of for so long.

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