Friday Night at 8: When the Debate is Over

It’s fashionable now for even the right wing to invoke how wonderful Martin Luther King was, now THERE was a nice gentleman!

I remember at the funeral of Coretta Scott King, the talking heads on the teevee were aghast at the Reverend Lowery’s eulogy where he dared bring up … gasp! … politics!

A brief example:

“She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar,” Lowery said. “We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we knew, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.”

I remember the discussions at the orange about this and was shocked when there were many who agreed Lowery was out of line saying such things at a funeral.  Propriety was important.  This did our cause no good.  Etc., etc.

Of course, Martin Luther King didn’t hesitate to call folks out at a eulogy he gave for the young girls killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing:

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

See, Martin Luther King won his struggle, in the sense of changing the frame of how Americans view civil rights.  I’m not saying the struggle is over, but the moral force of his message is such that even the most bigoted folks will give lip service to respecting him.

But it wasn’t so clear at the time.

There were folks who didn’t want King to march, didn’t support the boycott.  And not all of them were nasty racists.  There were clergy who felt it was entirely wrong for a minister to get involved in social justice, in politics.  There were folks who were afraid of getting killed.  There were endless discussions, endless debates.

But after a time, the debate was over and the action begun.

I think we forget what an enormous risk Martin Luther King and those who fought beside him took.  I think most folks forget about the sacrifices made and the political calculations that took place.  That Bayard Rustin, one of his closest advisors, was gay, and because of this many of King’s other advisors urged him to keep his distance from Rustin.  That women were not given leadership positions at the time and not for want of qualified candidates.

Even with these concessions, it was still an enormous risk  There was no guarantee the boycott would work.  There was no guarantee that the Civil Rights legislation we take for granted now would be passed.  Now we see Martin Luther King’s success as inevitable.  Everyone loves a winner … so everyone loves to say how they think MLK is the big role model for social change.  After all, he was non-violent!

I can just imagine how the blogs would have dealt with his eulogy for those girls who were killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church.  I can imagine how he would be accused of bashing his opponents — how DARE he even imply that anyone other than the evil bombers themselves were actually responsible for their deaths!  What an awful thing to say!  And I’m sure there were those at the time who felt exactly those sentiments.

How could there be unity with those harsh words?  Of course now, they aren’t considered harsh at all.  Now they aren’t.

Comes a time when the debate ends and action begins.  Then there’s opposition, the whole way, the whole journey — but it’s not about debate any more.  The die has been cast and the struggle has begun.

I wrote earlier in the week about the meeting President Obama had with various human rights organizations.  These folks were not invited to the White House because they were civil and respectful, nor because they were bashing and disloyal.  They were invited because they have become a political force to be reckoned with.  For them, the debate is over and the struggle has begun.

There’s been an endless amount of meta written in the past couple of weeks about the left and the moderates and the Obama bashers and the Obamabots.  I find that meta to be mostly beside the point.  Folks have made their choices, and no amount of civility is going to change that reality.  In order to truly bridge the natural divide that results from true opposition, success is going to be one big measure of finding common ground.

The issue of torture (and this is only by example and not the only issue included in my view) has been successfully moved from a fringe issue to a mainstream issue on the liberal blogs.  There’s disagreement as to what should be done, but there is no disagreement any longer that this issue is not going to go away and through the work of so many different groups and individuals (including President Obama’s decisions not to obstruct much of this information — but, sadly, not all), a giant wave of information is coming out that will not be contained in any frame.

If there is going to be common ground between the various factions on the left, that success will be part of finding it.  Folks on all sides can rant as much as they please about name calling and disrespecting others, but I find that to be a thin and tattered cover for the real opposition here.  We don’t have to be nice to each other and we don’t have to play that we’re united when we’re not.

The struggle has begun — it’s not about debate and communication any more.  There are those who will stand on the sidelines — there are always those who stand on the sidelines — and they will yell their objections and praise their champions.  None will be able to stop this struggle, though, no matter how many pretty words are written.

I’ve been told I will be disappointed when my goal of Cheney, et al. being put in jail never happens.  No doubt if it doesn’t happen I’ll indeed be very disappointed.  I’m sure there are folks to this day who are bitter that Nixon never went to jail.

But it’s not about that for me.  Not about victory or defeat.  It’s about the struggle itself.  We can never know if our struggle will succeed while it is happening.  We can never claim we are morally or humanly better than the next guy.  All we can do is stake our ground and fight for what we believe in.  There’s no way to avoid consequences — whether you do a lot or nothing at all, there are always consequences.

When the Iraq War began there were many supposed liberal bloggers who twisted themselves into pretzels saying it was justified.  They are now known to have been wrong.  There was a lot of fighting and a lot of moral sermonizing going on.  But the fact is, they were wrong.  Some of them have admitted it, others never will.  But those who were in the struggle know.  At the time — it was a struggle and the outcome was not so clear.  But now it is very clear indeed.

Now that the lid is being ripped off the evil stench of Cheney/Bush crimes, we are again at the time where we will take a stand.  The debate is over.  The outcome is uncertain as it always is.  But my view is that the debate is over and the struggle begun.

15 comments

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  1. … never ends.  It’s a journey, not a contest.

    And whenever anyone stands the fuck up … opposition will immediately appear.

    It’s natural, imo.

    • Alma on May 23, 2009 at 2:12 am

    It’s about the struggle itself.  We can never know if our struggle will succeed while it is happening.

    Very true!  But there are some results we can see to keep our spirits up.  We’ve seen how many more people are learning what went on, and adding their voices to ours.  We won’t lose for lack of trying my friend.

    • Robyn on May 23, 2009 at 2:21 am
  2. Strong and helpful words.

  3. after ground has been taken and held.  Common ground can only be found between equals,m and since one side in any issue is the side of hegemony, they start out holding all the ground.  Some of their ground must be taken and held, and shown to be beyond recapture, before hegemony will negotiate honestly as an equal.  

  4. there are many struggles in which was are engaged..

    I too can sometimes feel that folks are standing on the sidelines of the struggles in which I am engaged.

    Perhaps one day, those issues will also cease to become fringe and find that same mainstream acceptance on the liberal blogs.

    In the meantime, I’ll just keep trying to understand what Martin Luther King tried to teach us about the struggle. Lord knows I have a long way to go.

  5. thank you NPK, this is really excellent and of course timely. It’s hard sometimes to step back and have this kind of persepctive. I think you hit it right on the money.

    (Maybe Barack needs a vacation! He’s been in office four months already, right? lol)

  6. “Never forget that life can only be nobly inspired and rightly lived if you take it bravely and gallantly, as a splendid adventure in which you are setting out into an unknown country, to meet many a joy, to find many a comrade, to win and lose many a battle.”

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