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There's a diary on the rec list about how being shocked, outraged, or otherwise focused on the NSA surveillance programs is probably evidence of white privilege. The argument goes that minorities have been treated so badly by the United States government for so long, that only someone privileged could be seriously upset, upset enough to be focused on the NSA's actions as an important issue.

One particular emphasis of the diary was that since we never had a democracy, we can't "take our democracy back." And there was, as well, the sense expressed that the NSA surveilling the American people is so much less awful than the repression experienced by the original fighters for Civil Rights that it is almost elitist to object at all.

There is no point in being upset, or trying to take back our democracy, because it never existed, because it was racist and oppressed people.

So we should have a certain nonchalance about the NSA thing, and anyone who doesn't has white privilege.

Follow me below the orange pretzel for some questions and thoughts.

Just out of curiosity:  When I protested in Jacksonville FL against the hijacking of the 2000 election by George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, because Jeb was helping his brother climb up into power on a pile of disenfranchised black voters, was my outrage acceptable?

If so, why? After all, it was hardly the first time that black people had been subjected to having their votes miscounted or thrown away. And not the first time black voters had been intimidated by things like police checkpoints on the way to the polls, either.

Was my shock, disgust, and horror a function of white privilege?

Isn't nonchalance in the face of abuse--whether it's new abuse, continued abuse, or accelerated abuse--inappropriate no matter what the circumstances?

Also, it's interesting that the diarist cited the Civil Rights movement as a reason to be cynical about the premise of American democracy, and as a reason why we shouldn't care all that much about the NSA spying on us.

There are three reasons why this is interesting.

First is that we know the NSA is spying on activists.  The same way J Edgar Hoover spied on Dr. King, except with added new technologies..  They used these tools to break up Occupy, and they intend to use them the same way again.  Thus, the NSA issue affects every political issue that may require protest and dissent. Authoritarianism does that.

The second reason is that Dr. King himself did not believe that the fight for justice should be fought only in one place, only on one issue, or only on behalf of one group of people.  That is why he expanded his fight in later years to include economic justice and the war in Vietnam.  He cared about the rights of union workers, the despair of the poor, the pain of soldiers, and the deaths of children in Southeast Asia as well as always directing his actions and his will toward ending racism against black people in this country. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he said, "Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Dr. King was not cynical about democracy as some have proposed we should be. Here are his words:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

"Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy....Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

Though I am white, and thus ignorant of a lot, these words ring true to me. They articulate principles that are sound as a bell. Fight injustice where you meet it; dismiss its importance at your peril.  Demand freedom, democracy, and justice because it's the right thing to do.  And never fall silent. Because all God's children need justice.

Originally posted to SouthernLiberalinMD on Fri Jun 21, 2013 at 08:46 AM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Policy Zone.

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