Thursday, January 24, 2008

Back! (Sort of...)

The Water Heater Saga Continues and its consequences will occupy us for some time. Repiping the house and fixing the floors has been put on temporary hold; denizens of Casa Ché are adapting to the new (but not improved) situation. And we go on.

By getting back to my topic, in this case Progressive Ideals and the Struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr. It can, perhaps, stand for much of the struggle the nation went through in the 1950's and '60's; and if we're open to it, we gain a little understanding of the mess we face now.

Just to recap: my premise is that Progressivism is primarily a governmental operating system. It is not an ideology. Starting shortly after the turn of the 20th Century, Progressivism became the Standard Operating System for all levels of government nearly everywhere in the country. That process was accelerated by the Depression and World War II. By the end of the War, there was no realistic alternative to Progressive governmental operations. That situation did not change fundamentally until the advent of the Reagan Revolt, first in California starting in 1967, then nationally with the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency in 1981.

Reaganism sought to overthrow and replace the Progressive operating system with another way of doing things that hearkened back to typical 19th Century inefficiency and incompetence, together with massive levels of greed, graft, and corruption. Some of what the Reaganites set out to do was accomplished, but much was not. It was left to the Busheviks to complete the transformation of government into a corrupt, incompetent Autocracy, eliminating, calling into question, or irrelevating, insofar as possible, remnants of Progressive operations at the federal level and discrediting them at the state and local level.

That's where we are now.


1963 was one of the many seminal years of the 1960's; Martin Luther King, Jr. went to Birmingham, AL and organized and protested against long-standing racial segregation, humiliation and violence that characterized the South. He and hundreds of others were arrested and clapped in jail. The Good Citizens of Birmingham, specifically a set of well-meaning white churchmen, wrote an open letter to King pleading with him to 1) go away; or 2) if not to go away, at least stop demonstrating against the persecution and injustice in Birmingham and engage in constructive negotiations with the... powers that be. You may read their letter here.

King, for his part, wrote back, quite publically, to scold the Good White Clergymen for their blind-foolishness, and to remind them not simply of the reasons why the Negroes of Birmingham couldn't wait, but why the Good White ClergyMen of Birmingham could STFU.

King's Letter From A Birmingham Jail is one of the most masterful slapdowns of the status quo and the Well-Meaning-Powers-That-Be ever written. Later in the year (August 28), King would deliver his famous "I Have A Dream" Speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC; arguably, that event was the moment that changed forever the racial animosities and indifference that had characterized much of the nation's history, including the entire history of the Progressive Movement up till then.

Indeed Progressivism was riddled from the outset with racism. King, to his credit, recognized this internal flaw and contradiction in the Progressive Movement and chose to highlight it in order to make or force positive change. He was not anti-Progressive, he was anti-racist. Unfortunatly, Progressivism as an operating system, had built in racial biases that proved difficult to get rid of.

In this regard, the context of 1963 is important. The Civil Rights Movement had been under way in the courts, far more than in the streets, for decades, starting in earnest around the turn of the 20th Century in mostly failed efforts to turn back or prevent the imposition of Jim Crow laws. After World War II, civil rights campaigns took on renewed urgency. Brown v Board of Education (1954) undermined the premises of "separate but equal" segregated schooling, and Rosa Parks sparked rebellion against segregated public services (in her case, public transit) in Montgomery in 1955. Putting an end to legal segregation in all matters became the mission of civil rights activists, but still in 1963, segregation was widespread, not just in the South by any means, and the status quo was still fiercely protected by governments all over the country. And in 1963, throughout the South and spottily elsewhere, blacks were largely prevented from voting. Ending segregation and restoring or establishing voting rights for all Americans seem now to be self-evident Progressive ideals, but at the time they were not.

King says:

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness"—then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience ...

While his work at the time is in the South, in the center of Bull Connor's World, his words are addressed to the nation, not just to the narrow-minded GoodMen of the Birmingham Clergy.

And the reality for Blacks in America that King so eloquently describes in his letter was related to the reality far too many Americans had known throughout the nation's history, including throughout the Progressive Era.

Restricting access to rights and liberty, to peaceful enjoyment of life and family, to prosperity, to education, to opportunity was widely seen as right and proper in America. For many Americans, the Constitution and its many guarantees of equal justice, was a sick joke, perpetrated to fool the masses.

King saw opportunity to fulfill the promise of the Constitution, however, and to fulfill the long-delayed promises of Progress that seemed to come to everyone, especially after World War II, everyone except America's millions of oppressed and downtrodden.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Of course, this absolutely begs the question, what was wrong with progressivism that Reagan was allowed to lead the revolution against it?

    I hope you're going to address this in a subsequent post.

    My post about Ron Paul is up.