Watching Leadership take a Leadership Role; House Sit ins and William J Barber
Bernie Sanders obliquely called us Democrats "political cowards" in his latest broadside at the party. He wrote this even as he ran from the Senate End of the capital to the House End to try to steal some thunder from John Lewis and his Civil Disobedience on the House Floor. John Lewis, one of the courageous democrats that he and his surrogates were accusing of "political cowardice" only hours before, had the moral courage to actually work with others and stage a sit in. What Lewis is doing is a little more consequential than a filibuster. The term for it is Civil Disobedience. There are consequences for Civil Disobedience beyond the need to eat or use the Potty. As my hero Doctor William J. Barber explains, talking about the Moral Monday's Movement:
[Rule #3] "A moral movement draws power not from its ability to overwhelm opposition but from its willingness to suffer. The Second Reconstruction brought large-scale nonviolent direct action to America through the Montgomery bus boycott. A Third Reconstruction depends upon escalating noncooperation in order to demonstrate our capacity to sacrifice for a better future." [Third Reconstruction]
It Takes a Movement
But it takes a Party, it takes a movement, to make change. And that takes folks willing to suffer and share their suffering, willing to take on suffering in order to wake people up to the need for change. Genuine change is always bottom up. It's not driven by fearless leaders, but it can turn ordinary fearful "political cowards" into heroes. As Barber Says about rule #4:
"A moral movement must put human faces on injustice and amplify the voice of the voiceless. We do not speak for those who can speak for themselves. We do not create a platform for politicians to speak for those who can speak for themselves. Directly affected people are the best moral witnesses. Our movement exists to let their voices be heard."
Or more precisely, when those injured by injustice and inequity speak for themselves the politicians are no longer speaking for them, but responding to them. Politicians can represent the worst of their constituents or respond to the compelling moral authority of change agents. That is where movements come in.
Inspiring Each Other
John Lewis did a courageous thing. But his courage was inspired by activists for gun control, the testimony of hundreds and thousands of brave witnesses. AND the compelling moral case of movements like the Moral Monday movement. In essence such movements start out "outside" the "establishment", but if we let them into our establishments and our hearts, then they become part of the establishment. He was inspired by and responding to the leadership [from below] of those demonstrators. I don't know if Gabby Giffords was in the house chamber in person, but it was her spirit and that of others like her that stiffened Lewis' spine and made it easier for him to stand up and sit down.
A Demonstration is a kind of Stunt
When Lewis and the other Democrats sat down on the floor in the House yesterday they knew they were breaking house rules. A demonstration is a kind of stunt, but it is a special kind of stunt. Non-cooperation with evil has evil consequences. Our representatives finally turned the House into a stage to demonstrate our need for better gun control laws. This is just a start. Lyin Ryan had no trouble with pulling stunts when the Democrats had a majority. And with far less moral authority.
Why We didn't do it before
In 2007-2008 a lot of people thought that Barack Obama was going to be the savior of our country and save us from the pervasive corruption and influence of the GOP Con artist war machine and the general access and influence of the armies of lobbyists and fund-raisers who form our elites. It didn't happen. There were a lot of reasons. It wasn't for lack of trying on his part. He talked about these things up until the night of his inauguration. What was missing was the kind of leadership and movement to get behind him and give him legislators who would support his program. His bully pulpit could only do so much. It takes a movement
It Takes a Party
Nobody can execute a Non Violent movement by themselves. It also takes folks getting together. Ultimately the movement leaders have to inspire, influence and move, or become, mainstream politicians and parties. John Lewis Got his Start in the Civil Rights movement. And is now a mainstream Politician. The Civil Rights movement is now a part of our Democratic Coalition, and we benefit from the energy and moral authority their members provide. I watched the Democratic Party Platform Committee have its first meetings. During the hearings divisive Sanders supporters tried to create battles over Israel and to make radical assertions about what should be in the platform. Representative Elijah Cummings, another veteran of the Civil Rights movement and the Chair, was sympathetic to them. But after Dr. Barber Spoke, afterwards, West seemed to moderate a bit. West wanted to talk about how "big money" is defeating us. But Barber ran the numbers:
"1.6%, 30,000 VOTES, LESS THAN 100 VOTES PER PRECINCT GOT THE PERSON WHO RAN AGAINST KAY HAGAN ELECTED. 75,000 VOTES WERE SUPPRESSED." [Barber Speaking]
What is defeating us
Barber makes the case that what is defeating us is an anti-civil rights campaign. Voter suppression is oppression. Disenfranchising Felons is a long standing anti-civil rights program. The GOP is trying to suppress democracy and not just black folks franchise, but anyone who would not vote lockstep with their elitist agenda. All these issues are related. If you want to "Fight the one percent" you have to fight for democratic rights and accept that you have to convince people to support your side. That is something that folks like Cornel West seem to sometimes have trouble understanding. But Barber does.
So expanding the franchise, getting people registered, making sure our polling places have integrity is just as important as "getting money out of politics." Indeed Barber made the case that what we really need is to resource our democracy more not less. Cutting funds to run for office won't do much good if people can't vote for them. Barber reminds us we should not write off the South:
"TOO OFTEN PARTIES HAVE WRITTEN OFF THE SOUTH. WHEN YOU WRITE OFF THE SOUTH, YOU WRITE OFF 22 SENATORS. THAT MEANS YOU ONLY NEED 30 SENATORS FROM THE OTHER 39 STATES TO CONTROL THE U.S. SENATE."
The Democratic Revolution is a Values Revolution
The Moral Monday movement is fundamentally about restoring integrity to the process and to our system. Barber also said:
"I HAVE A RIGHT HAND AND A LEFT-HANDED I AM CONSERVATIVE .....I AM ALL OF IT TOGETHER. BECAUSE I WANT TO CONSERVE LOVE AND JUSTICE, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND I WANT TO BE LIBERAL ABOUT IT."
A movement founded on fundamental principles is a conservative movement. We aren't fighting conservatives, we are fighting cons. And he explains:
THE POINT IS, IF WE STOPPED USING TERMS THAT DIVIDE US, AND ....-- START TALKING ABOUT WHAT IS CONSTITUTIONALLY DEFENSIBLE, AND DOING THAT,..."
He found that when we change the conversation. Dump the dog whistles and divide and rule rhetoric, then:
WE WERE ABLE TO GET PEOPLE INTO THE ROOM AND PEOPLE WERE -- WHAT WE LIKE TO DO, THE PROGRESSIVES -- PROGRESSIVES,"
The Same Enemy
And it turns out that; Gay, minority, immigrant, whatever:
AND WE SAID, GO UP THERE AND CHECK OFF WHO IS BLOCKING THE LEGISLATION. AND WE FOUND OUT THAT EVERYBODY HAD THE SAME ADVERSARY, WHETHER THEY WERE THE PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, JUSTICE, LGBT JUSTICE, PEOPLE FIGHTING FOR ALL OF THEM."
Regardless of our differences, we have a common adversary. And that adversary is mostly found in the GOP and their authority figures and institutions. We aren't dealing with a progressive versus conservative fight, but a progressive and conservative versus con artist fight. The enemy is that there is "private, separate advantage" to playing divide and rule and blocking progress for people -- for a small number of clever but perverse operators.
So we need a party that is a movement, a movement that can join with other movements and a movement that can inspire all of us to fight our common foe. If we fight for our real values, we'll find they are common values.
Movements don't have to be wedded to one party. On the contrary, their success is when they get all the other political factions courting them. However, some movements are what create political parties in the first place. Core to the democratic party is the democratic movement. To the extent it is true to that root it thrives. To the extent it subverts it or betrays it, it fails. We are stronger together.
Anyway this is enough for this post. Barber is worth reading more of. And so I leave you with some links:
- Platform Fights
- Post where Bernie accuses us of "cowardice":"The Trouble with Bernie Sanders - Final