Water Man Spouts

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Common Ground

{1} "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lies only a few miles from us tonight. Tonight he must feel good as he looks down upon us. We sit here together, a rainbow, a coalition -- the sons and daughters of slave masters and the sons and daughters of slaves, sitting together around a common table, to decide the direction of our party and our country. His heart would be full tonight. ….

"We meet tonight at the crossroads, a point of decision. Shall we expand, be inclusive, find unity and power; or suffer division and impotence?" – Jesse Jackson; Democratic National Convention; 1988.

Martin Luther King, Jr., helped to unite a number of the progressive movements in the turbulent decade of the 1960s. He is most closely associated with the civil rights movement; however, he was also a powerful advocate for the anti-war movement, for unions, and for other people who were being shut out of the Great Society.

When President Johnson signed some of the civil rights legislation in 1964 and ’65, he recognized that it would come at a political cost: he knew that many southern whites would leave the democratic party. In 1968, Richard Nixon’s "southern strategy" exploited the fractures in the greater society.

A year earlier, in his "A Time to Break Silence" speech, King had addressed some of the issues beyond civil rights. Although there were numerous forces at play, King’s speech marked the point where a group that has become known as the "neoconservative movement" began its exodus from the democratic party. The neocons became one of the most entrenched powers within the Reagan, Bush1, and Bush2 administrations.

{2} "Common ground. That's the challenge of our party tonight -- left wing, right wing.
Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival -- not at boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly. Whether you're a hawk or a dove, you're just a bird living in the same environment, in the same world. ….

"The only time that we win is when we come together. In 1960, John Kennedy, the late John Kennedy, beat Richard Nixon by only 112,000 votes -- less than one vote per precinct. He won by the margin of our hope. He brought us together. He reached out. He had the courage to defy his advisors and inquire about Dr. King's jailing in Albany, Georgia. We won by the margin of our hope, inspired by courageous leadership. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson brought both wings together -- the thesis, the antithesis, and the creative synthesis -- and together we won. In 1976, Jimmy Carter unified us again, and we won. When do we not come together, we never win. In 1968, the division and despair in July led to our defeat in November. In 1980, rancor in the spring and the summer led to Reagan in the fall. When we divide, we cannot win. We must find common ground as the basis for survival and development and change and growth."

In the 1980s, Jesse Jackson would give a voice to many of the smaller voting blocks in the progressive left and democratic party. This was the "Rainbow Coalition." There were those in the democratic party who were uncomfortable with some of the groups and individuals who comprised this coalition. Some even disliked Jesse.

But he made two runs for the White House. And in 1988, the Rainbow Coalition came of age. Jesse was able to organize those involved in the anti-war and nuclear disarmament movements; union workers from factories, and family farmers, who were the victims of "Reagonomics"; and civil rights and human rights workers.

Jesse was not perfect. He made mistakes. But he also was able to do things no one in Washington, DC could do, when it came to communicating with those in foreign lands who held Americans hostage. That ability caused some of the same people who rejected Martin for his "A Time to Break Silence" speech to try to silence Jesse. And they are the same people who still want to silence those people who could comprise an updated Rainbow Coalition in 2008.

{3} "Farmers, you seek fair prices and you are right -- but you cannot stand alone. Your patch is not big enough.

"Workers, you fight for fair wages, you are right -- but your patch labor is not big enough.

"Women, you seek comparable worth and pay equity, you are right -- but your patch is not big enough.

"Women, mothers, who seek Head Start, and day care and prenatal care on the front side of life, relevant jail care and welfare on the back side of life, you are right -- but your patch is not big enough.

"Students, you seek scholarships, you are right -- but your patch is not big enough.

"Blacks and Hispanics, when we fight for civil rights, we are right -- but our patch is not big enough.

"Gays and lesbians, when you fight against discrimination and a cure for AIDS, you are right -- but your patch is not big enough.

"Conservatives and progressives, when you fight for what you believe, right wing, left wing, hawk, dove, you are right from your point of view, but your point of view is not enough.

"But don't despair. Be as wise as my grandmamma. Pull the patches and the pieces together, bound by a common thread. When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground, we'll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs and education and hope to our Nation."

The struggles from 1968 and 1988 have made the options we have in 2008 possible. Yet it is important that we also examine some of the mistakes that were made along the way. If we had fully understood and responded to the tragic errors of Vietnam, we would not be involved in the war of occupation in Iraq today. If we had made greater advances in civil rights and human rights struggles, we would not still be struggling with racism and sexism in the 2008 democratic primary.

The republican machine will attempt to sow the seeds of anger and division within our party. They will try to do this from the grass roots to the convention hall. It is our responsibility to stop this from happening. The primary contest is at times harsh, and this is not new. But we can disagree without fanning the flames of racism or sexism.

There are three people who might be the democratic nominee: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards. Each of the three could be elected president – and only divisions within our party could prevent that from happening. However, once elected, each one would have to deal with republicans. Each will consider appointing one or more republicans to positions in their administration. And each of their administrations would have to deal with both parties in congress. But that beats the alternative, which is a republican administration that refuses to listen to those people from the progressive and liberal wings of the democratic party.

{4} "Wherever you are tonight, you can make it. Hold your head high; stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don't you surrender!

"Suffering breeds character, character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint.

"You must not surrender! You may or may not get there but just know that you're qualified! And you hold on, and hold out! We must never surrender!! America will get better and better.

"Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive!"

Martin sets some goals for this country in 1968, and Jesse identified some others in 1988. We have made progress on many of these, and have lost ground on others. The Bush-Cheney years have been especially harsh. 2008 offers us new opportunities to get our nation back on track. Let’s work together to reach that higher ground.


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