Where Progressives Fear The Unfamiliar
By Dr. L. Jean Daniels, PhD
I think people believe I am lucky to live in Madison, Wisconsin. After all, it is the home of a “progressive” movement that is the mother of all progressive movements, they tell me. But somehow I am not encouraged by this movement here. I have had to re-examine the definition of a progressive. I have had to consider the atmosphere surrounding a progressive foothold. Raised as a teen by the activism of Jesse Jackson and other older Black civic and political leaders, I was urged to stand strong and stay focused on “the least among us.” But "the least among us” are not so visible in Madison, Wisconsin.
(MG) The first writings of the "liberal (progressive) project" can be traced biblically to the Book of Exodus. The call to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, be hospitable to strangers, and take care of the widows and orphans resonates throughout the Bible, through the prophets (major and minor) and oh so clearly in the words of the carpenter, the teacher, the rabbi, the healer, Jesus of Nazareth. This IS the heart and soul of the liberal project and it is QUITE divorced from any racial limitations
As a member of an historically oppressed race, some of us have a “unique” position in the struggle for justice and equality. I strive to do my part to resist despair and degradation, while working to de-mystify the narrative of the imperialists. The progressive has a responsibility to work daily against oppression and toward a truly democratic way of life, one in which human needs are more important than profit for the individual or mega-corporations alike. It is a heavy responsibility to consider "the least among us" and the creation of a democratic society because it sets off those individuals or groups who would dare to stand up for the poor, working class, Mexican and Haitian immigrants etc.
Progressives need not always call attention to themselves and the work they do in the resistance movement. It will be duly noted. It will require critical intervention and generally such intervention will be risky and could jeopardize relations among family members and friends. People will know - for to call attention to the indigenous history of enslavement and genocide, to denounce the collective denial of this historical experience and its legacy, is to denounce the rumbling roar of America as Empire.
(MG) and to do so invariably brings forth the question my own son is so wont to ask, "Why do you hate America?" DAMN IT TO HELL, I don't hate America. What I hate are the imperialistic policies of our elected (and appointed) political leaders, the deceitful conceit of "American exceptionalism", the rampant racism, the war mongering military-industrial-educational-infotainmnet complex that FEEDS itself, GORGES itself at the corporate welfare teat of the U.S. governments coffers ... wrong is wrong, and this nation has been WRONG on so many issues of humanity, justice, truth that it simply boggles my mind (oh would some power the giftee gie us)
This understanding and attitude that comes with it represents the core construction of “certain kinds of human beings,” as Cornel West explains, who see this form of activism, this way of being in the world, in relationship to injustice and inequality, as “a calling” and not a career.
Unfortunately in Madison, in the practice of “activism,” of helping the “helpless,” the progressives silence the voices from the Progressive Movement’s heart and soul. It silences those who have a right and an obligation to stand witness. This state of affairs in Madison is normal. It allows for the illusion of bright and shininess, of safety and security, at least for the predominantly white students attending the UW Madison and the residents (90%-plus white) and the tourists (also predominantly white). This state of affairs provides a haven for businesses and mega-defense corporate folks. Madison stays on the list of the most progressive towns. All nice and all white - and the progressives never complain about this state of “normalcy” in Madison.
Certainly there are a few progressives in Madison sincerely dedicated to transforming the legacy of enslavement and genocide. But we are individuals who receive less attention in Madison, let alone in the world outside of Madison. We always have “bad” news, it seems. Our “joy” in resistance is translated into “bad” news, presenting us with the danger of recrimination and retaliation for soiling that which is so wonderfully, magically safe. Our focus on this litany of suffering and injustice is a scary thing in a town that would prefer to shine with optimism for the bright futures of so many of its residents.
(MG) But ultimately there can be no bright future for peoples who willfully refuse to face reality, to admit the sins of generations past ... there can only be an endless series of repeated past mistakes ... wars in Viet Nam, invasions in Iraqs, etc, etc
If Madison thinks about “the least among us” or thinks on race and class issues, it does so as an exercise in “diversity” learning! Yeah, moms and dads - with a pail of cleanser and scouring pads, let’s evoke the old days of the Civil Rights Movement, known as the good old days, when helping the “helpless” was great exercise too.
(MG) few things offend so-called "Progessives" / "Liberals" as much as being asked to do more than they are prepared to do ... case in point - President Lyndon Baines Johnson was inspired by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King to pass Civil Rights Legislation ... BUT ... when King decried the American invasion and occupation of Viet Nam, LBJ took it as a personal affront
The heart and soul of this nation’s historical progressive movement is missing in Madison’s progressive movement. The spirit of this history is dead - expunged for a more pragmatic idea of individual and collective profit.
Economics. Like the conservatives in other cities such as Washington D.C., Madison puts profit before considering the welfare of “the least among us.” The progressive movement in Madison consists of residents for whom history of the left is history of white activism. (MG) history books tend to be published by predominantly white run publishing companies ... so, this is not surprising Some, I believe, know better. But there are others for whom the historical activism of Black Americans, whose ancestors, African women, threw babies and themselves overboard slave ships rather than acquiesce to enslavement, is some startling new information. Distinguishing Madison’s progressive narrative from the narrative of white supremacy is difficult, for they have in common the sacrifice of an entire struggle for justice and equality. An entire struggle silenced for the progress of economic development in the city.
In a college town with a high number of intellectual progressive minds, I am amazed at how many are unaware of a Black radical/progressive tradition. Beyond the superficial data espousing the polished glories of this or that Civil Rights Black figure (so many suffer from the permanent affliction of no long-term memory), the progressive movement in Madison caters to those “undereducated” leftists, who are done with Black folks and their problems, and want no further reminder of what they left behind when they returned to their own lives and families. For some progressives in Madison, to read Black radical thinkers is to give credence to a people whose memory of the historical is haunting and therefore a nuisance. It is unthinkable to credit people who need to be discredited. On the other hand, it is comparable to rejecting “family values” and the American way of life, the apple pie - and America, for heaven's sake!
Therefore, a history of THE progressive movement, in its entirety, starting with its core representatives, will not be found in Madison - and this state of affairs seals, while it conceals, the economic dominance of white interests.
It is a sad state of affairs in Madison, Wisconsin. The progressives are not particularly bad folks, but they are frightened that while turning a corner, their children or grandchildren will run into Chicago or Milwaukee (big monstrous images of gang bangers and drug dealers). Their fear of the unfamiliar has them afraid of what they will do in that close an encounter in that dark corner. Will they respond like the Bush administrations and the conservative administrations before that? Prevent and be saved. Thus, the progressives, visible and vocal members, offer prevention rather than intervention. For Madison, drug users come in Black skin. Crime comes in Black skin no matter your employment status or family status.
(MG) all over American, drug users come in Black skin ... just look at the statistics ... citing from memory, somewhat recently in Illinois, for one calendar year, more than 1,000 Blacks were incarcerated for drug / narcotic offenses ... the number of whites incarcerated for said offense was ... drum roll ... 24 ... leading one to conclude, possibly (erroneously to be sure) that the incidence of drug / narcotics usage within the Black Community is ... 40 times higher than in the Anglo Community? ahem ...
You are guilty until proven “innocent” - dead! It seems I have heard this phrase about the “best” Indian or the “best” Viet Con is a dead one. Death, sad to say, is promoted here - the death of African American children, drained of their heritage and left bloodless. It is tragic. So goes our culture and heritage here in Madison, so goes any hope of a future for this nation.
(MG) look at access to health care, look at how physicians "treat" their black patients as opposed to how they treat white patients ... it is separate ... it is unequal
Those of us, living among the progressives in Madison, arise in the morning, face the sun, and call to our ancestors to begin the struggle of another day. We go about our apartheid existence. We are lucky to be alive to struggle another day.
(MG) and white America NEEDS for you to continue this struggle, because until the day when all embrace the lifting up of the "least amongst us", until that day comes, NO citizen of this country can rest easy ... not even the wealthiest and most powerful ... as a matter of self-interest, this struggle needs to be taken up by ALL peoples, but more importantly, as a matter of MORALITY, and HUMANITY it is the right fight ... it must be fought, and we all need to unite as one
BC Columnist Dr. Jean Daniels writes a column for The City Capital Hues in Madison Wisconsin and is a Lecturer at Madison Area Technical College, MATC. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.