Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
November 12, 2016
What America will become in the next 50 years depends on what we do now, individually and collectively. There are no simple answers, no quick solutions, and no going home again. We have to find new ways forward. This will require deeper thinking and more thoughtful actions than ever before. The stark choice between revolution and counter-revolution is here.
This choice has been evolving for a long time. In 1955 the Montgomery bus boycott broke the right-wing grip on America that controlled the life of most people. Following the Civil War, after a brief flowering of African American freedom, the forces of counter-revolution reasserted themselves. In the South, white supremacists used a combination of violence and legislation to restore their power.
In the rest of the country, whites did the same thing, often rioting and attacking vulnerable communities. From Maine to Oklahoma mobs drove African Americans out of their homes, creating thousands of “sundown towns” for Whites Only. Immigration was tightly controlled, queers were killed for sport, people with disabilities were hidden in institutions, indigenous rights were violated, sexual exploitation was commonplace, and working conditions for most were often deadly. As we endured the World Wars, intellectual life was degraded by a virulent anti-communism, given voice by Joseph McCarthy whose campaign destroyed art, culture, and compassion. As Martin Luther King observed, America was “the greatest purveyor of violence,” and much of that violence was directed at one another.
All of that was shattered by the power of the liberation movements launched by ordinary people in Montgomery. Over the next two decades, America became a more human place. We became more aware of one another and our responsibilities for the sustainability of life on our fragile earth.
But the forces of white supremacy did not go away. They continued to organize, to evolve, and to challenge every hard fought gain of the last 50 years. There is a long line from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. And Regan and Trump embody the sensibilities of those who came before like Bull Conner, David Duke, George Lincoln Rockwell, Fred Phelps, Rush Limbaugh, Phyllis Schlafly, George Wallace, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Orville Hubbard, Robert Welch, Lester “Ax Handle” Maddox, Coors and Koch, Andrew Jackson, and Nathan Forrest. Trump is no foreign fascist. He is part of a shameful American history of violence in support of power. It is a history we can no longer evade if we are to create a more human future.
The majority of us rejected Trump. But we must now face the forces he has unleashed. We know that they will try to take our homes, seize land, shut off water, pollute our air, close schools, lock up our children, defile our sacred places, bomb our homes, terrorize us in bedrooms and jail cells, ridicule our beliefs, risk our futures, incite riots, infiltrate our organizations, round us up, limit democracy, beat us, and kill us. We know this because this is what they have done. This is what they are doing. This is what they will do with renewed force.
Already the KKK is marching. Young men are shouting obscenities, high school students have erect walls against immigrant children, and countless acts of aggression are recorded daily.
After more than 50 years of political struggle for better lives, one thing should be clear. Only love can overcome this violence. As Dr. King said, “ When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response…Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality…Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in individual societies. We must find new ways to speak and act of peace and justice…If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight…Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world.”
We need to take the time to grieve together, for it is this grief that grounds us in our best hopes for the future. And then we must turn to one another to ask what now affirms life, what moves us toward ways of living that expand compassion and creativity? We are not alone in facing these questions. We have a collective memory of those who came before, struggling against racism, materialism, and militarism and for a vision of loving communities to enrich our thinking. Together we will find ways to open our hearts and imaginations.
Today, we welcome the resistance to this violence. But much more is required. We must draw upon our deepest spirits of love, honesty, courage, and hope if we are to create a world worth preserving.