The article at this link — https://www.alternet.org/activism/progressive-infighting — offers many very fresh insights that can help us move forward. I urge people to read the entire article. I’m summarizing a few key points below (and identifying which additional comments are my own). The entire article fleshes these out and adds more insights. I highly recommend reading the article at the link in this paragraph.
The article’s title – “Here’s Why Some Progressives Are Tearing Each Other Apart” – is bold, accurate, and highly relevant to the organizing crises many of us have been experiencing in the past few years.
The article says people tell “stories” that express how we understand the world and our places in it. The author (Valerie Tarico) identifies three dominant stories:
• The oldest one (the “Ancestral Story”) still exists. It affirms traditional social hierarchies. Liberal and progressive people have been seeking to replace it with two other stories.
• The “Social Liberal Story” is egalitarian and affirms all people as equal. It is grounded in the Enlightenment and seeks progress by expanding human rights for all people. The author summarizes it like this: “We’re all in it together. There’s no such thing as a self-made man. I actually am my sister’s keeper. Everybody needs a hand up sometimes.” It sees a positive role for government in protecting people’s rights, regulating businesses, etc. Although the right wing denounces government as an authoritative oppressor, the “Social Liberal Story” calls upon government to be an honest referee that makes sure all people (rich or poor) abides by the same rules and seek fairness throughout society. Government and other institutions often fall short, so we need to organize and mobilize to make sure our society lives up to our best values and provides fairness for all people. The “Social Liberal Story” promotes more attention to making sure every person – and every kind of person – is treated fairly with full and equal rights.
• Recently a third story, which the article’s author (Valerie Tarico) calls the “Structural Oppression Story” has emerged and become a rallying point for many progressives. This approach recognizes the oppression that has been built into our society, economy, systems, etc., in such long-standing and structural ways that this imposes hierarchy that oppresses certain kinds of people. This is not just a reaction against the oldest (“Ancestral Story”) but also against the modern “Social Liberal Story”).
The article’s author (Valerie Tarico) says, “activism organized around the Oppression Story is raw and exasperated. It gives voice to people who are done making nice, done waiting politely to be invited to the table, and by others who are horrified at their own history.”
The tensions among people in progressive movements are between the second and the third of these stories. I agree with the author (Valerie Tarico) that the conflict between the second and third stories are tearing us apart.
I believe we need BOTH of these two more recent stories:
• I appreciate that Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and many very progressive reformers and revolutionaries have been well grounded in the second story. They affirmed universal values and organize and mobilize people to nonviolently make our societies live up to these best values.
• I also believe there is value in the third story. We need to hear the voices and experiences of people who have been oppressed and are still oppressed. We must respect their demands to be included in reforming and/or revolutionizing society in various ways to make society better for all of us.
Yes, we actually need BOTH of these stories, not just one or the other:
Some liberals find it hard to hear people telling the third story. Also, I am increasingly concerned that some people who are feeling much pain and identify totally with the third story are denying the value of the second story. Instead of recognizing that all people are one human family, some people demonize all whites or all males or all Christians or all heterosexuals based on their demographic variable. This reinforces and feeds into the polarization that Trump and the hate-filled right-wing groups are doing. This is not the basis for a truly inclusive and just society. Instead of true justice, some people want to simply invert the traditional hierarchy. Instead of helping all people heal and grow, blaming only makes people feel defensive and resist the changes that would allow them to heal and grow.
Since the very early 1970s I have grounded myself in profound nonviolence. One of the core beliefs (affirmed by Gandhi, King, and other people of color, Dorothy Day and Kathy Kelly and other women, and various other people of many faiths, genders, abilities and other demographical variables) is that all people are one human family and all people have inherent human worth and dignity. No exceptions!
I believe that every person deserves to be valued as inherently worthy as human regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other demographic variable. This means every person has a right to speak. No person can shut down another person – certainly not because of some political or demographic variable.
Likewise, no person should be “put down” or attacked because that person is one individual in a demographic group that has sometimes done bad things. We recognize this when someone attacks a Jew with the stereotype that Jews are lazy, or – as Trump has done – label Mexicans as rapists and murderers. But likewise nobody should attack a male just because other males have done bad things or attack a white person just because other whites have done bad things. Such attacks are common nowadays as part of the Anti-Oppression work that some people in the Structural Oppression Story do. Stereotypes and bigotry – whether coming from the political right or the political left – are hurting our society. They do not provide the healing and the profound changes that our society really needs. They feed into the Trumpist worldview of polarization and dehumanization.
I want to solve the problems that have been violating people’s human rights and human dignity. The third story emphasizes that various forms of oppression are deeply rooted in our society and other human societies. This is most certainly true. Some people who focus only on the third story and disparage the second story can end up failing to solve the problems. The second story affirms positive humane values, working for profound democracy and human rights and a government that serves all of us in “we the people.” The second story helps us solve the problems and build the kind of society that will serve everyone equally.
If we focus only on the third story — the deep roots of oppression in our society — this can cause some people to feel hopeless and powerless to raise public consciousness and change public policy. If, for example, somebody feels U.S. history is nothing but racist oppression, that assumption can leave the person with no remedy. But if we can appeal to the best values that have been stated (even if not practiced), this can help move the public toward solving the problems. People whose anguish and anger leaves them in despair actually disempower themselves because they are not converting their experiences and insights into building a movement to accomplish meaningful changes in public policy.
In any area of public affairs, venting is not organizing. Many of us express profound frustration and anger at the U.S.’s militaristic foreign policy. But it’s not enough co complain. We must also work to help the public understand, build a strong and broad-based movement, and make the government change to a peaceful foreign policy. We need to do this on all issues of public affairs, including the environment, the economy, and everything else, in addition to social justice and peace.
I urge people all across the political spectrum to read the article at this link:
I urge people to affirm both the second and third stories in Valerie Tarico’s article.
She offers other articles at www.valerietarico.com