Most Americans are nonconfrontational. Ironically, many times they predicate their opinions based on the verbiage of those who are the most vocal. When one polls Americans about their value set, they are decidedly progressive. They believe in social, criminal, economic, and racial justice as concepts. Why? Because deep down they know it is right and they are able to empathize with abstract concepts.
Interestingly, at times actualizing all those good values Americans believe in, we find ourselves in conflict with reality, history, and individual courage. There are many reasons for that. One primary reason that encompasses them all, however, is the inability of many to empathize unabashedly.
I received very upsetting emails from two friends in a particular organization this week who would want progressives to temper their speech because it makes some uncomfortable. This discomfort they say detracts from the ability to bring these people into the fold. The question is; if one must tell less than the truth to bring some into the fold, what good is having them in the first place? Isn't said lukewarm entry a revelation of a sign of unreliability?
I immediately remembered a quote from a letter Martin Luther King wrote as he spent time in a Birmingham jail. The issue is much more profound today. Replace the words “white moderate” with “some progressives.”
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
Letter from Martin Luther King from Birmingham jail
As I sat in Starbucks, my good friend Professor of Government and Director of Lone Star College's Center of Civic Engagement Dr. John Theis walked in to grade some final exams. I told him I was writing an article triggered by an email I received from a friend. After I told him I would include Martin Luther King's quote he provided another one to highlight the point from another side. These quotes further the notions that while one must be civil, there are virtues that one must not cross. The professor gave me the Barry Goldwater quote below. We are not discussing the wisdom of Goldwater's Libertarianism and strict adherance to state rights which are partially used by nationalists to justify their racism:
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
Why the beauty of the very system we Republicans are pledged to restore and revitalize, the beauty of this Federal system of ours is in its reconciliation of diversity with unity. We must not see malice in honest differences of opinion, and no matter how great, so long as they are not inconsistent with the pledges we have given to each other in and through our Constitution.
Whereas the current crop of Republicans always goes for the jugular, some progressives always begin their narrative from a stance of compromise. We fear to offend the sensibilities of the right and center, or we assume that the positions we take, though correct, are unattainable. This hurts us as it is tantamount to abandoning the afflicted, a reason many think elective politics is pointless.
We could learn something from the right. They know that repeating lies that go unchallenged become truths in the psyches of many. They are unconcerned about offending progressives.
Unfortunately, too many on the left can't be bothered. They've allowed fallacies and stereotypes to metastasize. Imagine if progressives had a condensed version of Martin Luther King's narrative when the right gave the false impression of folk lifting themselves up by the bootstraps. If we repeated corresponding truths in a condensed form over and over without the fear of offending the sensibilities of the centrists and the right, we would likely be more effective in passing most of the progressive policies we promote by popular demand. And we would be serving those we purport to support.