How We Got Here: The 2020 Political Crisis and the Future of Social Change (Part IV)

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

This piece is part of a treatise which consists of the following sections and will be published in the form of a series over several days.

Based on my own experience working in different communities, the imposition of systems and values is rarely effective by itself and can even be counterproductive. While our society needs rules to govern human behavior, communities also must come to moral values on their own.

This observation does not mean that communities cannot be helped to come to these values; however, pure imposition is bound to be an ineffective strategy. “Helping” — or love — would be a superior approach.

How would we instead pursue an approach based on love?

First and foremost, we would never denigrate those who disagree with us, especially those from disparate backgrounds.

We would treat them respectfully, and we would fully acknowledge and accept their inalienable right to disagree with us. We would also accept that even if we disagree on some matters, we can still work together on other matters where we share common-ground.

In addition, we would permit mistakes. If someone makes a mistake, we would educate them instead of shaming them. We would recognize that all of us, as humans, are imperfect — and that we all need supportive environments that allow us to fall and help us to get back up again.

We would further recognize that even though the opposing side’s viewpoints may be “wrong,” those viewpoints may have complex roots in legitimate grievances.

Second, and related, we would devote time toward engaging in persuasive, civil discourse with those who disagree with us.

We would speak face-to-face, we would ensure that everyone feels heard, and we would engage with one another humanistically. In fact, many of the problems facing our nation — rooted in the failure of different groups to understand one another — ought to be addressed through quality human conversation.

Truly, following the 2016 election, programs to bridge the divides within our country by facilitating cross-cultural conversation and exchange should have been prioritized. Such programs would have offered the opportunity for seemingly disparate groups to discover that they share much more in common than they realize.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other” [1].

After several decades, however, we have forgotten his wisdom. Rather than implement any efforts toward bringing Americans together, we have only allowed ourselves to grow further apart.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we would focus on the fundamental disparities between rural and urban America.

If we are truly angered that rural Americans do not view the world in the same fashion as urban Americans, then we would advocate for policies that bring higher quality education to rural areas.

Just as we fault citizens of our country who complain about the higher crime rates in disadvantaged urban communities without drawing attention to the underlying causes of crime, we would focus on the underlying inequities faced by rural communities.

If we are truly angered that rural Americans do not view the world in the same fashion as urban Americans, then we would advocate for policies that bring higher quality education to rural areas.

Implicitly, many progressives may indeed support policies that would promote social equity and welfare in rural areas; but the emphasis on rural livelihoods certainly is not prominently featured in the progressive cause, perhaps because it is no longer flashy to advocate for policies that improve the well-being of white Americans.

This reality likely arises from the fact that the progressive movement has morphed into more of an identity-based than principles-based movement.

Owing to this trend, the movement can at times — especially for the uneducated observer — be perceived as promoting the power of certain groups at the expense of others.

The loss from the failure to implement an agenda based on love has been most disappointing and monumental.

Most of all, if the progressive movement had pursued love, we could have created a coalition between rural and urban America, based on critical matters of injustice that are common to both of them, such as access to education and healthcare.

An agenda for national economic justice could have been a profoundly powerful, unifying force in America, bringing together people of all races, geographies, religions, and ethnicities.

Specifically, an agenda for national economic justice could have been a profoundly powerful, unifying force in America, bringing together people of all races, geographies, religions, and ethnicities. As a byproduct of building a true national coalition, we also would have created spaces for cross-cultural exchange within America, facilitating mutual understanding across groups of different identity.

It is worth noting that King always situated the cause of racial justice within a broader, universal struggle for national redemption and for the freedom of all peoples throughout the world.

For King, his efforts began with racial justice but were never about race alone; they were about fundamentally transforming our society — both locally and globally — and overcoming all of the oppressive injustices embedded in its foundations.

“Now, when I say question the whole society,” he proclaimed, “it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated” [2]. On poverty, he wrote [3]:

Some forty million of our brothers and sisters are poverty stricken, unable to gain the basic necessities of life. And so often we allow them to become invisible because our society’s so affluent that we don’t see the poor. Some of them are Mexican Americans. Some of them are Indians. Some are Puerto Ricans. Some are Appalachian whites. The vast majority are Negroes in proportion to their size in the population.

We would do well to actualize King’s full vision.

Many progressive bodies, including racial justice organizations, do indeed continue to stand for many of his broader social demands. By and large, however, the progressive movement has not galvanized a major national effort toward this end. Nor has it made the relevance of its stances on economic justice known to many rural Americans.

Instead, this group of citizens has perceived progressives as enemies and has been misguided into other ideologies that harm both themselves and the rest of the country.

Works Cited:

  1. Goodreads. n.d. “Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes.” Accessed September 1, 2020. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/10800-people-fail-to-get-along-because-they-fear-each-other.
  2. King, Jr., Martin Luther and James M. Washington. 1986. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: HarperCollins.
  3. King, Jr., Martin Luther. 2018. “Martin Luther King Jr. Saw Three Evils in the World.” The Atlantic. Accessed September 1, 2020.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Josh Greenberg

Josh Greenberg

Human, activist, scholar. Physician-Economist-in-training @UMich. CEO @proghealth. @FulbrightPrgrm Awardee. I work on anything that matters, locally & globally.