Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Red Equal Sign

Some definitions:

The Human Rights Campaign is, to use the language of the Left, a Right Opportunist organization.  It can be successful because it asks for so little.  Its demands are the demands of the people closest to the system.  Marriage Equality is not a particularly radical demand; it's actually a conservative demand.

A lot of people are angry at the Human Rights Campaign, especially after it inspired 2-3 million people to change their facebook profile picture to a red equal sign.  Those angry folks are Left Sectarians, again, in the language of the Left. They are angry and frustrated at the Right Opportunists leadership of the movement, and angry that the less involved (the masses seem to prefer the wrong leaders.

I know that this is mansplaining, but it's also a geezer lecture.  This is not a new story, but a long-standing pattern in radical politics in the United States.  As the right opportunists get close to winning some reform, the left sectarians raise more and more pointed critiques of it.  It is how the msovement moves to new stages, formulates new demands and reaches new understandings.  But along the way, great damage can be done to the overall conditions in the country.  The fragmentation of the reform movements into liberal and radical wings blunts the progressive movement and opens a space for the Right to regain the initiative.

In the period of 1968-1972, the great liberal upsurge of the 1960's (culminating in the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and as it wound down even the EPA and the ADA) broke apart along this liberal/radical lines.  One the one hand, increasingly reformist, water-down advances and on the other hand, a deeper, more far-reaching critique.  In the UUA, the Black Empowerment Controversy was our little piece of this larger story.

In that moment, the rightwing rose to power, and inaugurated a 40 years backward march.  They were able to do so because the progressive movement could no longer lead.  It could not formulate a program that improved the lives of people and that they could mobilize people to demand.

I would suspect that we are about to enter a similar period.  The success of the Obama coalition in ending the Nixon-Reagan-Bush counter-revolution sets the stage for a new progressive movement, more radical and far-reaching than the reforms now considered.  After all, we want more than just same-sex marriage, some 'common-sense' gun safety legislation, an orderly end to the wars, and a chance to buy health insurance.  The Occupy movement was a harbinger of what is to come.

But is the Left of the Left ready to lead?  Not just critique the present leadership, but take the lead of the whole movement?

I put up my version of the red equal sign.  I would have gladly put up another sign or symbol, or take some other action, to intervene in the struggle for marriage equality, an action that pointed to a more radical understanding, or even the emergence of a more radical leadership.  I just heard crickets.  Yes, I heard some complaining about HRC, but there was not the sound of a different leadership, one that spoke to the historical moment.  Not one that offered millions of people a way to be a drop of water in a tidal wave.  Not yet, but maybe someday.



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