Monday, January 28, 2008

Crisis. Internal or External?

Crisis is central to Change.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Post-Reagan, and especially the Bushevik Era, has been the monopolization of Crisis->Change by the right wing authoritarians. "Leftists" -- so-called -- have been essentially unable to gain any headway, make any positive changes, for decades. Many of the reforms of the Progressive Era have been undermined or rolled back, sometimes against very weak or absent opposition, and there's been relatively little enthusiasm and energy put in to advancing -- or even articulating -- a contemporary Progressive agenda in the face of the right wing onslaught.

Socially, culturally, politically Americans have been going backwards for a generation. It's one of the most remarkable reversals of the modern era.

What do we do about it, and as importantly, how do we do anything about it?

Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders saw a congruent situation developing for Blacks in the South and elsewhere in the country (segregation and legal discrimination against Blacks extended far and wide prior to the mid-1960's) and they took radical action. As detailed earlier, Martin Luther King took the notion of Crisis leading to Change from the example of Gandhi's efforts to liberate India from the oppression of the British Empire, applied it to the South in specific, concentrated, non-violent actions, precipitating Crises, which -- suprise, suprise -- led to an end to official and lawful segregation, and at least a mitigation of racial discrimination, and a far wider extension of civil and political rights than the nation had ever known.

But the success of the Civil Rights Movement (and its ancillaries -- the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley, the campus revolts of the '60's, the Anti-War Movement, etc.) caused a reaction that is with us today. A reaction that is crystalized in Bushevism.

The Crisis King sought -- and largely achieved -- was external. He sought to precipitate conditions, in concentrated situations, which would shine a bright light on the Powers That Were, bringing shame to them; he hoped that the spotlight and the shame that occurred because of the direct actions he and the Southern Christian Leadership Council took would cause a Crisis of Conscience, which would force the Powers either to negotiate or to yield outright. His efforts did not bear immediate fruit.

Resistance in the South was very strong, despite the success he and other civil rights leaders had in bringing attention to the issues of segregation, discrimination, and voting rights. White Southerners, apparently, were willing to live with the shame of their laws, attitudes and behavior toward their dark-skinned brothers and sisters. There was a Principle to uphold, and Sacred Honor. White Supremacy was a matter of deeply held belief, of faith, and the struggle to maintain it was worth nearly any cost to the Southern Believer.

In other words, King was amply able to utilize the tools of external Crisis in his march toward liberation, but despite his best efforts -- and despite the shame of the brutal and bloody reaction to his efforts in the South -- he was only partially able to inspire an internal Crisis among Southern Whites sufficient to cause them to Change their laws, attitudes and behaviors.

He had more success in Washington, DC, where, in 1963, following his famous March and Rally at the Lincoln Memorial, he was able to convince President Kennedy to back milestone Civil Rights legislation then pending in Congress. Passage of that legislation, however, had to wait for a very different sort of Crisis, that of the assassination of President Kennedy and the extraordinary sweep of reform that occurred in Washington in 1964.

It took a combination of external and internal Crises, on a localized and a National scale, to force the Changes necessary to ensure civil and political rights to all Americans. Many Southerners still resent those changes, but many others would never go back to the way things were. For in bringing Liberation to the oppressed, the oppressor is also liberated.

To Be Continued....

No comments:

Post a Comment