“When oppressed people willingly accept their oppression they only serve to give the oppressor a convenient justification for his acts. Often the oppressor goes along unaware of the evil involved in his oppression so long as the oppressed accepts it. So in order to be true to one’s conscience and true to God, a righteous man has no alternative but to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Stride Toward Freedom” (1958)
The hopefulness for our nation that I harbored as a child has given way to a foreboding; not a sense of resignation but a frustrating acknowledgment that the sins of our past remain with us for the present and the foreseeable future. The darkness that enveloped this land over the genocide of original, indigenous American Indians and the enslavement of Africans continues to cast a shadow under which no sunlight can penetrate and no truth seems to pierce. Our nation is captive to its own twisted history and no self-serving narrative of national ‘exceptionalism’ can rescue this land from the painful truth that we are now paying the price for our inability to own up to our past.
The recent presidential election put into context our utter failure to make real the glowing rhetoric of freedom and liberty that is weaved throughout our nation’s founding documents. In fact, the 2016 election provides a frame for the true landscape of America; a country running in fear of itself, a nation divided by the haves and have nots, and the hue of race. What we saw in the candidates of the two entrenched political parties is more of the same; some of it suited up to look unique and some of it recycled. What we don’t hear is an acknowledgment of what many of us see, and many more are beginning to acknowledge; that this nation is teetering dangerously beyond repair. It reeks injustice and inhumanity, and for all the patching in the form of Civil War constitutional amendments and civil rights movement era legislation, the nation is losing more humanity than it’s adding to mankind.
What is troubling is the fervor at which African-Americans claim solidarity or opposition to a particular candidate or party, almost blind to history and a trail of disappointments that always leave us in perpetual ‘hope’ mode. We are so desperate for acknowledgment that we lay down our legitimate claims and grievances for the momentary euphoria of being in relative proximity to power. Our rightful share, our earned inheritance, is compromised because we are seduced by the allure of the moment. Rather than a fully inclusive society, we settle for a desegregated or ‘diverse’ one. The land of the free becomes redlined into residential restrictions. Freedom of mobility is racially profiled away. The free market is made not so free by cheap labor and the flood of products that lead to indebtedness. Economic opportunity is someone else’s fruit that we are not allowed to consume, though our plowing of the field has produced the bounty.
For me, the 2016 election was not about electing a Republican or a Democrat, or a candidate on the right or left. It was truly about the future. A future that cannot be realized for the better if we remain stuck in the rigidity of partisan politics that has failed to liberate us. On this point I am in full agreement with our nation’s millennials, who have expressed a profound mistrust in the two mainline political parties and the candidates carrying their banners. While youthful suspicion of ‘the establishment’ is nothing new, what seems to be different about millennials is their individual determination to stand their ground. This is not a generation prone to the need for belonging. All survey data shows that millennials don’t have the same need for associational activity as their parents or parents’ parents; perhaps it’s a byproduct of their technology driven lives. From what I have observed, they do have very strong opinions that lead them to self-determined behavior. Perhaps that is why the old fashion mass movement of yesterday never materializes in the way we expect; it’s occurring wirelessly and upon individual acts of defiance that may or may not swell into an orchestrated mass.
It is also why I do reserve some hope. I think millennials get it. They have observed more than we give them credit, and have benefited from almost a century of well recorded political history. While some of the rhetoric sounds as it did in the 1960s and 1970s, to me there is a relentlessness that I cannot recall from past years. I do not believe this generation will default into partisanship; some will but I believe the overwhelming majority won’t. And this rejection of partisanship is going to profoundly alter both the Republican and Democratic parties and may spring forth something different, a new political approach that is focused much more on outcomes to improve the human condition than contrived electability.
At least, I can only muster hope that it will be so.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.