Monday, January 17, 2011

All The Rage

As the nation moves from mourning the loss of the victims of Tucson, to attempts to rectify the causes, we risk becoming mired in the maudlin, the kumbaya, the "both, and", the nonsense of feeling good. This impulse works to the advantage of the embedded powerful. No one asks or expects the banker, the soldier, the politician, to relinquish any part of the power or fortune they have obtained or protect in the name of civility. Only the victims of bankers, soldiers, and politicians are asked to tone it down. That is just as true here as it is in Tunisia, where after intolerable abuse became so apparent, the people rose up to throw the bastards out. They may get nothing for their trouble, but at least it will be a different set of bastards. The world watches and shudders at the prospect of what this might portend. What all the powerful fear is when people have had enough abuse they will rise up in rage against their oppressors.

Anyone new to the community organizing business, will ask his/her mentors why they can't effect change on issues that seem so apparent to the trainee. Those working on issues of joblessness, lack of services, legal or similar abuses are amazed at the quiet on the land regarding issues of such dire import. The wise, experienced teacher will ask their minions, "where is the rage?", knowing rage is the precondition for any meaningful change. Channeling rage into effective action is the most important tool in the change agent's kit.

People with experience in the south preceding the civil rights movement experienced the false civility of white oligarchs asking for and employing "courtesy" in the name of subjugating their "niggras", and the po-white trash that they employed. Southern hospitality was reserved for those who respected the time honored traditions of Gentry. Talking heads are starting to posit that all Americans want to be rich, they identify with their oppressors. That's the reason they tolerate the abuse. Until they don't.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, remembered this day for peaceful, non-violent demonstrations, was no stranger to rage and its uses. The Montgomery Bus Boycott worked because it was a no-compromise response to the years of abuse suffered by the black citizenry.

The rage, the reaction, to the assassination of Dr King, was one of the factors leading to the co-joining of his followers civil rights campaign with the anti-war protests, documented here. The coalition forces, previously dispersant, forced the end of the war in Vietnam, and implemented much of the civil rights reform.

What the timid on the left have to accept is their potential alliance with the out-rageous on the right. Who on the left supports the bank bailouts so vehemently protested by the tea party activists? Who on the left is not for reductions in health care costs, elimination of wasteful spending, or the reduction of profligate government? Cut the birther crazies, and racists out of the picture. Get beyond the diversion of a killer mad man. Realize why there is such unanimity amongst the powerful in their desire to quell anti-government rhetoric. They are starting to sense the possibilities of what an anti-status-quo coalition might look like.

At the same time we have to understand that there is often no middle way. Those who beg for diplomacy, or the search for compromise, reduce hard ball issues to a mediated center, insuring that neither side of an argument will be satisfied. And this is posited as a good thing.

There has to be an understanding that many problems cannot be settled by reaching for a middle ground. General Colin Powell means it when he argues that you don't wage war halfway. In an April 1, 2009 interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, Powell set out his doctrine: the Doctrine denotes the exhausting of all "political, economic, and diplomatic means," which, only if those means prove to be futile, should a nation resort to military force. Powell then expands upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.

Bible readers are aware of King Solomon's Baby Decision (1 Kings 3:16-27):
King Solomon had to decide between two women as to which was the mother of a baby. Solomon said (1 Kings 3:25) to cut the living child into two halves and to give one half to each mother. When one woman said she would rather give up her claim than have the child killed, Solomon knew that she was the real mother.

Two enlightened leaders spoke truth to justice and were willing to threaten the end of the so called rule of law, when the issue demanded it. Who among us retains confidence in the court system to mete out justice. Pro-lifers are just as furious with a court they find out of touch as are those appalled with the Citizens United decision. The court smells it and members have hit the book speaking trail, with new fervor. Justices Scalia and Breyer are getting a lot of air time, convincing us of the reasonableness of the system, of the mediated way. They speak to different audiences but both speak to the virtue of incremental change, the self correcting process that is the system of laws. We should be glad to know that while they disagree they remain friends. They are civil. They have found a middle way. For those slaves that lived and died under the Constitutional 3/5 compromise there was no middle way. For those millions of women who never voted there was no middle way. For those disenfranchised that never owned land or the means of production there was no middle way. Those who find themselves in similar circumstances today should not rely on a self correcting mechanism that might make the world a better place for their children. They have a right to demand justice today. They have a right and a responsibility to be outraged at the inequities in the system.

They should not be quieted by the calls for civility. If anything they should get louder and more organized and less civil in their demands for a safer, cleaner, more just world.

That is the legacy of Dr. King.