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Civic Direct
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Civic Direct
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Riots are the Language of the Unheard.  And what is it America has failed to hear? ... It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

Civic Direct
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With all this talk about  and , what did  have to say?

"What I’m saying to you this is communism forgets that life is . Capitalism forgets that life is . And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher that combines the #truths of both. Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of #racism, the problem of #economicexploitation, and the problem of #war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated!"


Stephen Rockwell
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On the MLK Day weekend, I wanted to revisit a post that I wrote on the 50th anniversary of MLK's assassination. The nation spent this past weekend marching at the Women's March and responding on social media to young white men wearing MAGA hats taunting Native American elders.  I observed a lot of conversation amongst white folks: conservatives making excuses or even going on the attack and white liberals suggesting restorative justice be employed so they young men learn a lesson.

As I say in my apology to Dr. King below, we need to be careful as white people to intellectualize a situation in which clear racism is involved. The mocking and taunting of people of color by white people too often doesn’t stop at the taunting. We can intellectualize, but the subjects of such attacks feel a clear and present danger, and rightfully so. A women in the video who looks to be with the indigenous folks says the word mob, and that’s not a mistake. MAGA hats to me say you are an open racist and when you add the taunting, I think we have to call a spade a spade and not seek some further explanation. If these were indigenous or African Americans young men, they would receive no such allowance. Not one of them stepped up to say hey this isn’t right. Not one. 

If we do entertain some sort of restorative justice, it would require two conditions: 1) there is an interest in restorative justice paths in which the young men want to hold themselves accountable. This is not my experience with Trumpers. This happens in a context in which Trump is reinforcing the bigotry upon which white supremacy rests.  These young men are not victims in this story, although right wing media continues to portray white men as victims, even in such egregious cases like this one.  The more likely behavior of the young men is what we are seeing now: making excuses, blaming the other side, etc. 

2) The other condition is that people of color aren’t put in the position of making these young men feel better about themselves. For example, I saw someone suggest that they should do a week of service within an Indian nation. There was a ton of negative reaction citing the long history of such processes that alleviate the guilt of white folks without addressing the underlying injustices of systemic racism. 

Two generations after Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech and in the same exact location, we are still fighting the bigotry we see in the behavior of these young men and the institutional racism that the MAGA mantra and policies seek to maintain.  

I give you again...my apology to Dr. King.  Sadly, we have made such little progress...

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This past week saw the 50th Anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.  Activists held a number of commemorative events, each finding their own meaning in King’s message after death.  In particular, momentum is building throughout the country for a rejuvenation of the Poor People’s Campaign, the campaign King was organizing when he was taken from us.  Many of these actions are on the Civic Action Center. 

While I’m always action-oriented, this anniversary has lead me to a more contemplative space, where I find myself challenged to more completely come to terms with racism and white privilege, to get beyond another debate with another white person about whether such privilege exists, but rather to more wholly come to terms with how I personally and we corporately as a nation achieve his dream of racial justice.

I believe this starts with an apology, an acknowledgement of significant wrong-doing and a demand for atonement. 

We don’t do apologies, nor atonement as country.  South Africa had truth and reconciliation commissions to come to terms with the evils that occurred during apartheid.  No such truth telling and atonement process occurred in the United States.  Indeed, few in this country have ever really apologized for slavery, Jim Crow, and yes, the systemic racism we see in our world today in each innocent African American life taken for holding a cell phone, selling loosies, every day traffic violations, holding a toy gun, wearing a hoodie, and on and on…

Perhaps it would be easier if we focused on apologizing to one person whom who holds a pre-eminent place in our shared and often troubled history.

Dr. King, I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry that in the fifty years since you left us, we have not yet gotten to the mountaintop.  The truth is while some things are better, many issues are actually quite a bit worse.  The generation that lived through your death and those that knew only of you as history have failed your call to justice and love too often in the last half century.   Many of us have come down off the mountain all together.

I’m sorry that we have not pursued economic justice as you encouraged us to do.  The poverty rate remains relatively unchanged.  The rate actually went up for children since you died from 15% to 18%.  Yes, we are still a rich nation, but nearly one in 5 children grow up poor and inequality has gotten significantly worse.  If an average CEO made 35 times an average worker in your day, it is now well over 300 times. We have gone through cycles of blaming the poor for their problems while continuing to cut taxes for the most wealthy.   

I’m sorry that we seem to have difficulty living in peace.  You spoke out against Vietnam, but my generation saw our country yet again choose to squander goodwill, the lives of many and over a trillion dollars on another war of choice in Iraq.  The bombing of the Middle East has rarely ceased over the last three decades.  

I’m sorry that we now live in the world where you are a Commemorative King as opposed to the prophetic King that lived.  The Commemorative King is safe and challenges us not.  Your image is used to sell insurance.  Politicians who opposed you in your life or would today if you were alive, cherry pick your words in praise.  The Vice President tweeted such praise even as he walked out of a football game where players were doing what you would have done, peacefully protesting the killing of innocent African Americans.  Your courageous acts of civil disobedience go unheeded.  Instead we commemorate your memory with volunteerism that offer no challenge to the system that makes such charitable acts necessary.

I’m sorry that your prophetic voice and example is so hard to find in our politics.  Perhaps you would not be surprised that this nation elected a racist, xenophobic billionaire following the election of our first African American President.  You told us that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, yet even you knew that you would not get there with us, that this nation can react to times and people of hope with ugliness and cruelty.  These times feel worse than any that I’ve been alive with torches of white supremacists again lighting the night and the scapegoating of our Muslim and Latin immigrant brothers and sisters by our President and his enabling followers.

You noted that the insufficient funds check to African Americans was issued at the birth of the nation as we declared all are created equal, but denied equality to so many.  We’ve bounced a number of other checks since your passing.  We’ve incarcerated way too many in the generations that followed.  We still see discrimination in housing, health, education, and the job markets.   

Dr. King, I’m sorry we have not quelled the violence in our communities.  You were taken from us far too soon.  I apologize that you missed so much time with your family and friends because of the hate that we allow to fester.  And I’m sorry that the gun violence hasn’t stopped.  You have been joined by Trayvon and Michael, Tamir and Philando, Sandra and Stephon, and too many others.  We say their names, but it won’t bring them back.  My heart hurts each time an innocent person is taken, a few hundred gun deaths every year in my city.  Your death should have been too much for us as a nation to once and for all come to terms with racist violence.  It wasn’t.  It continues.   

This is my apology Dr. King.   I regret that I have failed to live up to your example, and I recommit myself to your ways. I’m sorry that I have failed to have the courage and take the risks that you did.   You asked all to be the drum major for justice and peace from the pulpit just two months before you passed.  Our individual and collective atonement begins with beating that drum each day in ways large and small.  We recommit and will speak nothing more of a dream until we do better in making it a reality. 

Stephen Rockwell
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Part 2 in a Series.  Click here for Part 1.

Racism pervades American history as its immoral underbelly, casting aspersion on so many deservingly proud accomplishments.  The US Constitution is probably the greatest system ever devised for balancing power in a government as to counteract the tendency for increasing power in one person or one group of people.  The founders had first hand experience with totalitarianism and understood the human condition well.  Those who initially get even a small taste of control over the lives of their fellow human beings, tend to seek ways to continue and maximize that power.  Yet, in this very same document that represents such genius, the Constitution also contains an unmistakeable evil, declaring an entire population not fully human because of the color their skin.  The Constitution declared enslaved African as 3/5ths of a person for the purposes of population counting, but their slaveholding masters considered them as a good deal less than 3/5ths of a human being, choosing rather to hold them as property.  Slavery is America's original sin, a sin whose repentance never fully materialized across periods of progress and retrenchment.

America's Uneven Progress on Racial Justice

Thomas Jefferson, like perhaps no other figure, embodies the American contradiction of meaningful, earth-changing progress coupled with a virulent racism that casts a long shadow over such accomplishment. The author of the Declaration of Independence posited the Enlightenment notion of fundamental human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness forever shifting notions of the role of government and kicking off a centuries long expansion in our thinking about the inherent rights of human beings.  Jefferson was also a slaveholder with whom no excuse can be made for being a product of his times.  Indeed, he knew clearly the moral repercussions of the evils of slavery stating in a letter in 1820, "But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."  Yet he made no change and died without resolving this moral conflict for himself or the nation.

Jefferson's grounding the nation's birth in human rights created a vital reference point for which to launch various movements for racial justice from abolitionism to the Civil Rights era.  Almost 200 years after the Declaration was written, Martin Luther King Jr. led the march on Washington anchoring his entreaty for cashing the moral check inherent in Jefferson's articulation of the human rights rationale for the founding of the nation: 

"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 the 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."

The Civil Rights movement at its apex in 1963 saw the passage of the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts in the subsequent 2 years. The federal government continued intervention to end Jim Crow segregation in the South.  Affirmative action policies were put in place to ensure fairness and anti-poverty legislation would seek to ease the economic burden of America's sordid history with African Americans.  Such accomplishments seemed impossible only years before given the uneven progress on racial justice issues.  Yet the Civil Rights movement was built on centuries of individual heroics and movements of African Americans fighting for their freedom.    

The Civil War emancipated enslaved Africans from the bond of slavery after two and a half centuries of the institution.  The abolitionist movement pressured Lincoln and gained political power in Congress.  While reparations that could and should have been made were not, Reconstruction led to a tremendous amount of progress with African Americans taking roles in commerce and politics.  When Reconstruction ended prematurely, the South fell into the familiar normalized racial violence to ensure that whites maintained total political and commercial power.  Any African American refusing to acquiesce to Jim Crow, found themselves lynched, what we would call today a form of horrific terrorism using violence to engender fear.  

The New Deal saw a set of programs meant to alleviate economic misery, many of which African Americans could participate.  As a result, they abandoned the party of Lincoln for the party of FDR, despite the fact that the Jim Crow south was still largely Democratic.  The nation made greater progress in the New Deal in clearly defining Jefferson's human rights as basic economic rights. Americans had a growing awareness about the plight of African Americans given their inclusion within these new economic compacts.  Jim Crow segregation looked increasingly out of place with these new principles such as FDR's four freedoms.  The contradiction was magnified by the United States' new found role of global superpower fighting racist Nazi's abroad while implementing many similar practices toward the black population on the homefront.  The speed of change thereby picked up as Truman desegregated the military and fought off Southern Democrats seeking to maintain their "way of life."  The Warren Supreme Court ruled segregation illegal in 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education.  King's first foray into the becoming a Civil Rights leader was a year later in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Within the next decade almost all legal structures for segregation and disenfranchisement came to an end.  It is hard to overstate the accomplishments of the movement against incredible odd and power structure bent on using state and vigilante violence to crush it.

Centuries old social structures broke down the span of 20 years, but those who felt a loss from such forays into great equality did not disappear.  Many did not end up ever accepting their African American neighbors as their peers. Our mythology is that since the apex of landmark Civil Rights legislation, the United States continued to make steady progress on racial justice.  Such a narrative fits with our self-definition as Americans.  However, we will see that the Great Regression includes a significant step back on racial justices issues.  Though clouded by progress of individuals, systemic racism did not disappear into thin air and was used effectively by politicians to continue to cull racist votes and enact policies harmful to African Americans.  Since the death of MLK, America has in fact been in a Great Regression on racial justice, happening in tandem with a retrenchment and unwinding of the progress made across a wide range of justice issues.

We'll track the stagnant and regressing progress on racial justice next.  

Stephen Rockwell
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Do you remember this stunning moment?  Seems like a lifetime ago now.

America's original sins of slavery and racism seemed at least momentarily to be overcome by the  purveyor of hope, an inspiring figure who spoke with the eloquence and in the tradition of the great Civil Rights and abolitionist leaders. The goodness of the American people seemed affirmed, voting in a manner some never thought possible, making an African American the leader of the free world.

We were just beginning to understand the ramifications of the global economy in free fall.  We had lived through 9-11 and seen the unity of a collective resolve to conquer fear and terrorism torn asunder by leaders who dragged us into an unrelated war in which winning the peace was an afterthought paid for in American and Iraqi lives and 2 trillion dollars of taxpayer money.  This past and the storms on the horizon were present on election night 2008, but were swept away in the rejoicing of this improbable feat as a nation.  In Barack Obama, America had turned another corner. 

The election of an African American President affirmed that what Martin Luther King Jr. had told us was correct: the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

Except when it doesn't...

We are coming off what may be the most difficult week in our American political life in quite some time.  The full brunt of the indecency and misogyny of a US President combined with a complicit and conniving Republican Senate leadership undermined the broad support as a fair instrument of government long enjoyed by the Supreme Court since the beginning of the Civil Rights Era  This third branch of our government now is subject to and complicit in the power politics that embraces moral deviance and relativism in the allowance of the sexual assault of women and lying under oath as no real barrier to having a seat on the high court.  The Supreme Court, already comprised of a sexual harasser and other conservative justices that allow unfettered money into our political system will now form a majority that will further erode the gains of the Civil Rights Era, the feminist movement, the labor movement and all the progress that has been made to make this country a more fair and decent society for its citizens dating at least back to the Progressive Era politics of Teddy Roosevelt.  

This is the final step necessary to complete what I call the Great Regression.

The Long Arc of History...

For someone living in the mid-twentieth century as Martin Luther King Jr. did, positing the existence of a moral universe that gets increasingly more just over time seemed like a reasonable conclusion, even amidst the violence and anguish of confronting white Americans in the Civil Rights movement.  Decades of abolitionism, which started small but became an overwhelming force in American politics set the stage for a Civil War that ended slavery while killing off some ten percent of the population.  The excesses of Industrial Revolution and great income inequality were tempered by Progressive Era government regulation and trust busting and New Deal Keynesian economics that sought to provide for everyone's basic needs.  Disenfranchised women organized for decades before finally got the vote and eventually found their way into the workplace.  Labor unions fought for and one greater protections for workers and set the stage for a prosperity that was lifting most ships.  Jim Crow was dismantled by the Supreme Court who served as the guarantor of the civil liberties of black Americans. 

As King's activism got under way, he could believe in the hope that in a democracy like the United States, you could convince enough folks in the population that change was not only necessary, but possible.  When changing minds broadly failed, you could state your case to those in power and eventually they could be morally compelled to act.  The love power that he called activists to embrace was rooted in this hope, and indeed belief, that Civil Rights activism was pulling on that arc.  King could point to a number of important wins to corroborate his thinking.  

The Great Regression Explained.

Right at this juncture in American history, the Conservative movement formed in the modern sense, eventually finding a home in the Republican Party. Nixon's southern strategy first sought to engage  the racist grievances of southern white men who lived through a Civil Rights Era where the social arrangements and full privileges that they grew accustomed to shifted away from them.  Nixon combined this racism with the Republican tenets of a muscular foreign policy, a preference for the wealthy, and an ongoing attack against the new social movements seeking greater equality for women, homosexuals, and people of color.  

By the time Reagan received the nomination in 1980, the modern evangelical movement of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority was in full swing.  The GOP used their opposition to abortion as the wedge issue that would be used to undermine feminism.  Reagan was able to combined the racist aggrievement with this newly politically engaged religious movement to form a winning coalition.  Many working class white folks found themselves pulled into cultural and religious issues, even if the economic policies pursued by the GOP were against their economic interest.  The wealthy would see drastic tax cuts and increases in wealth while Republicans could drape themselves in the flag while holding a Bible.

The Conservative project of the last 40 years is now undeniably at its apex.  Despite an unorthodox conservative in Donald Trump, Republicans found someone who would continue economic policies that favor the rich, while speaking more directly to racist and misogynist grievance of the working class white folks that Nixon targeted in an increasingly culturally and racially diverse nation. Conservatives who spent years chipping away at the underlying tenets of a fair and decent nation that most Americans simply took for granted and in many ways still do are now able to pursue these regressive policies in a more robust way.  Republican leadership like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, would actually prefer that Medicare and Medicaid didn't existed. They voted time and again to kill off Obamacare, even though it provided insurance to millions of Americans.  Conservative governors refused to take Medicaid to insure more of their state's citizens.  The goal is no government involvement in health care or any other social good.  Indeed there is no social good in this thinking, only private gain. This is one of the logical ends to the Reagan Revolution which I would call more broadly the Great Regression.  

The Great Regression has occurred throughout most of the adult lives of those living today.  We have not seen it as this larger retrenchment as periods like President Obama's presidency masked the overall trajectory of the nation's descent into a plutocracy.  We are living it, but understanding the Great Regression on this longer time trajectory will help us think through how we more effectively fight back over the medium and long term.  Even with a mid-term election coming up, the immediate future looks bleak, but progressives and seekers of justice have fought longer odds in American history.  My addendum to King's adage:

The long arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but only if we make it so...

Click Here for Part 2

Stephen Rockwell
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Last week there was much hand wringing amongst Democrats and centrists about the Red Hen restaurant refusing to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  Folks who disagreed with the action generally are coming from a good place of wanting to maintain some degree of normal political dialogue in a toxic environment that Trump and scorched Earth conservatism created.  Folks are rightly concerned that every norm of decency has been discarded through childish insults and undermining American democratic institutions, while eroding the international institutions and policies that United States has championed for over a century.  While the desire to maintain "normalcy" is rooted in good intentions, the arguments fail to fully comprehend the reality that we now find ourselves.  Indeed, I fear centrists do not fully grasp the nature of the threat to the republic. This isn’t a mere set of political differences. This is fundamental difference on human rights and who we are as a nation. 

We have entered into a different zone and we need a new playbook for activism and politics. These conversations are important to determine what tactics work in what situations.  Over the last week, I spent some time breaking down these arguments.

Argument 1: We should not be harassing people in their personal lives for their political views.  

Many folks were calling Sara Sanders treatment at the Red Hen (and that of Stephen Miller and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen in restaurants) as harassment. Is it actually harassing when they are creating and defending and lying about child abuse and human rights abuse or is holding a high ranking government official accountable for the lies and defense of abuse that she herself does?  I would not call these acts harassment. Instead they are confrontations with public officials who defend and lie about human rights abuses of children. 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies on behalf of those with the keys to the cages. She defended the policy for weeks. She was confronted by the press about her own humanity and being a mother and she rolled with some legalistic "Christian" mumbling that further dehumanized the immigrant families. She should be confronted wherever she goes. 

Concerned citizens have a duty to vocally confront public officials, letting them know she is complicit in the human rights violations of children. Indeed, most city councilors would say they have trouble going to the grocery store, without getting an earful about a particular vote or issue.  Why shouldn't we ask Trump officials like Sara Sanders why she continues to defend and lie about much graver issues? If she said she and the administration were wrong and resigned, than that changes the conversation. If not, I would have told her human rights abusers are not welcome in my establishment. Silence is complicity.

In short, harassing is not the same as holding a top government official accountable for building, defending and lying about a policy the abuses children. No peace for these folks until justice is restored and human rights are restored.

Argument 2: Such confrontations only keep our political discourse uncivil at the level that Trump has sunk our politics.  

My first question to folks is how have all other attempts at civility and politeness worked out with Trump and his supporters? Has anything gotten better in his or their behavior? Or in fact has it gotten worse? Let’s not scapegoat those who are choosing confrontation for folks on the other side who find new depths to depravity and decency with each new day.

What is the nature of this debate?  I don’t think some detractors understand what kind of scrum we are in. We are not talking about an every day political disagreement about what the tax rate should be.  Children are separated from their parents lying on concrete floors not knowing when they will see their parents.  This is not a normal situation nor should be normalizing such abuses moving forward by treating Trump officials like we have a political disagreement.  The children ripped from their parents and put into cages are our children. If this is just about political difference, you are missing it.

Slip into Fascism. I have little time for conspiracy theories or over the top political hyperbole.  However, we have to admit to ourselves that there is darkness to this zero tolerance policy, in which we can at least whiff the evils of fascism.   Wealthy Quaker Henry Cadbury of Haverford, a founder of the American Friends Service Committee (one of the organizations in which I work), writing in the New York Times in 1934. He was catastrophically wrong.

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This letter is written in 1934. What was happening? The first set of laws limiting Jewish participation in German life. No families were separated yet. No kids were put in camps yet.  We are a few steps down the road of fascism with the dehumanizing of others, attempts to delegitimize the media etc. These aren’t normal times but and we can not offer normal responses that normalize what Trump and his folks are doing. The Irish Times had a good piece that speaks to these fascist trial balloons that Trump makes to test how far he can push the system (https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/fintan-o-toole-trial-runs-for-fascism-are-in-full-flow-1.3543375?mode=amp) The answer to how far he can push is how far we will allow him to do so.

Recourse for Human Rights Abuses. When it comes to human rights violations that putting personal responsibility and accountability on those who make the decisions is an important precept. In an international context, the ICE officers likely wouldn’t be tried at The Hague but the decision makers would. The Trump administration has taken us farther down the road to fascism with these dehumanizing actions. We don’t have the reach of the ICC here in the US nor does left or democrats hold any real institutional power. In that context, how do we as the people best hold decision makers to account?  

In an otherwise powerless position should citizens confront public officials who are engaging in human rights abuses when they see them?  Confrontation must be part of the picture as well. We’ve shouted no justice no peace. This is the no peace part. Don’t normalize human rights abuses by treating those responsible with respect. They deserve our scorn until they change their ways.

At protests we shout no justice, no peace. This is the no peace part. If you are responsible for the abuse of children we will hold you accountable. 

In this case, we are talking about children who are alive being ripped from their parents unwillingly by both parent and child. Good people can’t see this differently. If you support ripping children from parents you aren’t a good person. We have seen this before with mass incarceration recently and also historically in Japanese internment, separation of Native American families, and separation of enslaved African families. This shouldn’t be normalized and when we make it about mere politics, we are making an argument that makes the current situation normative. 

Elected Democratic Leaders Don't Seem to Get It. Our Democratic leaders are no better and normalize what ought not be normal.  Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders all criticized Maxine Water's advocacy of confronting Trump administration officials and the Red Hen restaurant.  The white septuagenarian Democrats don’t seem to get what kinda scrum we are in. We are already a couple steps down the road to fascism. Perhaps Mussolini is a better example than Hitler, but ICE is doing check points on the highway in Maine asking for papers.  Young children are sitting in camps not knowing when or if they will see their parents. A Muslim ban was ruled constitutional. Unions have been completely upended. Trump doesn’t have to be Hitler for the nation to be spiraling towards fascism.  While I am generally a practical policy guy, this is the world we are now living in. It requires a number of responses to resist, not all of which should be conventional.

Racism and privilege.  These calls for “civility” have been used in the past and they are often attempts to control oppressed peoples and people of color though social pressure. That’s why Maxine Waters and John Lewis get it while Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer don’t.  I was glad to see the Congressional Black Caucus stick up for Maxine waters against establishment white Dems who criticized her statement.  If it was your child sleeping on a concrete floor not knowing when or if you will see your child again, these calls for civility would go by the wayside.  I appreciated the moral clarity and urgency in Mari Uyehara's article on the topic: https://www.gq.com/story/trump-administration-blacklist-them-all

What the condescending, confused political establishment misses is that the restaurant industry have a duty to its immigrant community, the same men and women who harvest our tomatoes, pack our meat, pick our crab, milk our cows, clear our tables, wash our dishes, and cook our food. 

This compelling argument about the racial dynamics of this conversation.  We are talking about privilege and white privilege.  Judging others and their form of protest comes from a position of privilege. Your kids are not separated from you, not knowing when or if you will see them. You don't have to live in fear that an ICE raid will snatch your parent away, or figure out who will take care of your children when they come for you.  That’s also privilege.  Most folks would not be talking about civility if it were their kids and families in that position.   Because of privilege or because people don't viscerally feel the need to be active, we disagree on the means of protest because we disagree on the severity of the offense. 

If there is a gap in our civility and political discourse it was made by those who rip children from their parents. There isn’t middle ground for compromise on human rights.

 

Argument 3: Kicking Sara Sanders out is the the moral equivalent of not baking a cake for a gay couple and what if people opposed to abortion did the same thing.

Trump and allies are spinning the equivalency argument for sure.  But many on the left made the equivalency argument in a joyful spitefulness, that I don't believe is helpful.

Not serving because of who they are (something they can’t change) is not the same as declining to serve a high ranking government official who just spent the last few weeks lying and defending child abuse. Those are choices she made and she could unmake those choices at any point. The point of public shaming and shunning is to convince someone to make different choices moving forward. 

The extreme right wants a white only nation. The left wants health care for everyone. The far right intimidates with guns brought to rallies. The left participates in civil disobedience to end poverty. The equivalency is misguided and puts the noble reasonable centrist as the valued group. MLK’s letter from a Birmingham jail addresses your position better than I could.

The abortion issue was brought up by many including the Washington Post claiming that pro life proponents could handle the private sphere the same.  However, good people can see the abortion issue differently and the fact is that there is a large contingent of anti-abortion activists that have anything but civil over the years...


Argument 4: This isn't strategic action and potentially plays into the hands of Trump.

Ahh telling others how and when to peacefully protest...

I am sensitive any time I hear folks telling people how and when to protest. We hear this from the Right a lot.  "Don't take to the streets.  Don't stop traffic.  Don't kneel.  Don't protest on this day. etc." However, some folks on the left also offer their critique.  If the staff as the Red Hen and others have the courage to confront those in power we ought to thank them not sit on the sidelines criticizing.

My ask of progressives who have seen a lot is to have a big tent approach to those who have the courage to resist in ways big and small. My advice in general to white baby boomers (who are often the ones making these arguments about strategy and tactics) in term of effectiveness is go talk to your peers who largely gave us Trump. Start peeling more folks off for the sake of the republic and spend less time criticizing tactics of other resisters. Some methods may be more strategic than others, but clearly this small act of resistance created a good deal of cognitive dissonance amongst the center-left (especially amongst white boomers) and that's a good thing. Discussions like this are positing how to channel the urgency in confronting the pre-fascism acts of Trump. That's good to the degree that we don't land one size fits all solutions.

Also, there is an armchair component to folks who criticize protest from afar but do little themselves to confront the human rights violations.  I also hope we’ll see all those who don’t like confronting Sara Sanders in a restaurant out protesting ICE installations and confronting what you would consider “fairer” targets and times to stop the abuse of children.   

The truth is that all tactics of protest can be cast uncivil, even kneeling for example.  The Atlantics made this case well (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/the-civility-instinct/563978/) in that  of MLK as not civil, but militant in peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

I also don’t think the tactics of direct confrontation are mutually exclusive with what others are suggesting.  Yes, there must be political movement building. Yes, we must register folks to vote. Yes we must do solid community organizing. Marches and demonstrations are part of it as well. But direct confrontation can and should be part of the overall resistance movement picture as well.

My message is: Don’t criticize others with the courage to confront the perpetrators of human rights abusers directly.  You do whatever tactics work for you, but do something.  

 

Other Articles on this that spoke to me.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/opinion/trump-sarah-huckabee-sanders-restaurant-civility.html

http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/will_bunch/supporting-incivility-toward-president-trump-aides-cabinet-20180626.html

 

Stephen Rockwell
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One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. was borrowed from Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister, prominent American Transcendentalist, and early abolitionist preacher.  The quote is:

The Arc of the Moral Universe bends towards justice.  

This quote is a fundamental tenet to progressive thinking in the United States.  it creates an escape for America's injustices.  Yes, there was slavery and Jim Crow, but we slowly eliminated the slave trade, then slavery itself, then Jim Crow and legal discrimination, and then we had a black President.  Whether its racial justice or the trajectory of liberation struggles amongst women and LGBTQIA, there has been progress so we can buy in to a world  where the long arc eventually bend towards justice. 

Except when it doesn't.  This maxim, in which we all live by, doesn't happen by itself. This week we heard that not only is ICE separating parents from their children.  Think about the complete denial of humanity it takes to rip a crying child from the arms of a loving parent whose only crime was crossing a border seeking a better life for that child.  Think about then separating them and detaining children in what amounts to a prison, a child who has committed no crime.   

And the problem is not just ICE officers, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump denying the humanity of these families.  Indeed, we hear these same efforts at dehumanization in many of the conversations we have with family members and friends who are Trump supporters choosing xenophobia and racism over humanity and in many cases, their own economic self-interest. Below are recent conversations I had around immigrants and refugees with these folks.  I share only my replies as an example of how far dehumanizing others can go:

"...Beyond the clear xenophobia in this social media post, what you said is factually untrue. Immigrants are not drains to the economy, but a key part of growing the economy. Immigrants pay taxes and are net gains to the economy."

"...You clearly haven’t done your homework here, choosing xenophobia over facts. You are choosing xenophobia and racism over what’s actually true. It doesn’t say anything about me or Democrats, but it says a lot about you.  You sound uneducated and I believe you are better than such displays of xenophobia."

"...I think your legal argument doesn’t hold up. There weren’t really any immigration laws in place when most Europeans came to the Americas. There were significant illegal and immoral actions confiscating the land from Native Americans. The US has always taken in refugees fleeing economic, political, and religious persecution."

We see these forms of denying the humanity of folks on the other side of a border in places all over the world.  Just two weeks ago, Israel fired on unarmed civilians in Gaza as Ivanka Trump and Jarred Kushner opened up the US embassy in Jerusalem.  The world looked on in horror, but not all.  I still find it shocking that some of my most progressive Israeli and American Jewish friends can be so clear-minded about issues of justice in every context except that of Israel-Palestine.  Here's what I found myself saying to Israelis:

"..You are defending the murder of unarmed civilians. Have you denied the humanity of your brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall so much that you can justify the shooting of unarmed men women and children?  The civilians were protesting, not human shields for an attack. Everyone was unarmed. There have been no claims by either side that the Gazans were armed. Unarmed civilians were shot."

"...Unarmed civilians protesting, children and mothers, all qualify as innocent to me. You all are suggesting that the only way to handle the situation is through completely disproportionate use of force. No one except the most rabid right wingers and those who no longer see the humanity of Palestinians in America and Israel support such a point of view."

"...Why are Israelis embracingTrump, even though the rest of the world and most of his citizens despise Trump for so many reasons not the least of which calling Neo-Nazis good people and associating with evangelical pastors who preach hate against Muslims and Jews?

"...Talk about over the top propagandizing. No Israeli was under any immediate threat of harm. Therefore shooting live ammunition at unarmed civilians was not okay. You think it is because you have a whole narrative about what could have happened, even though Gazans have been protesting for weeks with none of that in fact happening. We haven’t even discussed the deplorable conditions of Gaza to which in part folks are protesting...the actual merits of the case. You have made it clear are you are ok killing unarmed civilians even when under no immediate threat. If that’s ok with you than you clearly have dehumanized the other side. You lose a piece of yourself and your goodness in that process. I would encourage deeper reflection."

In 2018, you have to say to otherwise well meaning people that shooting an unarmed protestor is not okay.  Trump in American and indeed the rise of right wing demagogues globally demonstrates, that progress is not inevitable.   As we see our country regress as our institutions and basic norms are attacked, we now understand that we can regress.  Indeed the arc of the universe bending towards justice rings hollow to the young woman shot by border patrol on the US border or the Palestinian young person who went to protest unjust living conditions to find themselves dead by the work of a sniper.  It seems meaningless in the face of the 1500 children that the US government has lost. 

The maxim is in fact not true.  But if I may, I would add a clause to make this most hopeful of quotes from our history be true.

The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends Towards Justice, If You Make it So.

Have we done our part to pull that arc in the direction of justice?  What can we do today, this week, and every day to make a more just world so?  Have you called out those who dehumanize others?  These aren't political arguments because denying someone else's humanity is beyond politics.  This is a moral duty to see and defend the humanity of those who are subject to people who attempt to strip their humanity from them.  Engage. Challenge. In Trump's America, we can't normalize hateful words and actions.  We have to resist going backwards.  A more just world, a more perfect union, is possible, but we must work together to make it so.  

Civic Direct
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Civic Direct
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