If we are smart and gracious and wise like King and Obama, we will welcome George Bush’s change in views and sensibilities. Every moment, but moments like this especially, require such a sensibility. Or, some would say, sense of grace.
The song “Amazing Grace,” sung at solemn occasions, provides a star to steer by as we travel down the road of life. Written by a repentant captain of an English slave ship, it is an invocation for grace, for forgiveness, for welcoming back a wayward son (or daughter) who has done terrible wrongs. George Bush falls into that category. In doing so we acquire grace as well, which we will need if we hope to defeat Trump in November and, further down the road, build a “Beloved Community” and realize our full humanity.
The comparisons of the present moment with another year of great turmoil, 1968, I’m sure, can be found. But in my view, it is the differences that stand out.
The nature of the social crises are dissimilar, even though racism deeply informs and shapes the dynamics of struggle in 1968 as well as 2020. But back then, we weren’t in the middle of a deadly pandemic, a global economic collapse, a climate crisis that is at the doorstep of a new and more dangerous phase, and, ominously, the presence of right wing, white nationalist regimes here and on a global level.
Another difference is that the coalition of democratic and progressive organizations and constituencies is deeper and broader now than it was then. Organized labor, for example, while numerically smaller, is a force for progress now. Women and people of color leave a much larger imprint on the politics of the country. And young people today embrace in greater numbers progressive and social democratic politics, with a dollop less of the sectarian strain than the youth movement in that earlier time.
Meanwhile, the right, which was at the beginning of a long ascendant phase in 1968 (Nixon was elected at year’s end, thanks to the Southern strategy and a law and order message), is, notwithstanding the daily dose of incendiary tweets and threats to use martial law and impose dictatorial rule, shows signs of declining influence. This was evident in the midterm elections when Democrats regained control of the House and recent public opinion polls point to an uphill struggle for Trump et al in the November elections. A defeat were it to happen, would constitute a staggering blow to Trump and this political trend, while also triggering a new era of progressive reforms.
Another difference is that the depth of anti-racist understanding cuts across a much wider swath of white people today than a half century ago. Among the young, first of all, but also their mothers and fathers who are more likely to reject racism than was the case with my parent’s generation. Its material and structural roots and dimensions are better understood. And with that understanding comes a willingness to support anti-racist measures to address inequalities as well as a revulsion at the senseless death of George Floyd and so many other people of color.
What also stands in sharp relief is the status of today’s Democratic Party. In 1968, the party was riven by deep divisions. Now it is increasingly united, possesses a deep and diverse bench of leaders, and, like the broad democratic movement, is tacking in a progressive direction.
One thing that isn’t different when comparing 2020 and 1968 is that the popularity of both presidents is waning. But where one, Johnson, announced his decision to forgo a second term, Trump, laser like, is focused on securing one. And it isn’t hyperbolic to think that he might resort to anti-democratic, authoritarian means to make that a reality.
In short, 2020 isn’t 1968. The differences far outweigh the similarities. 50 years ago the future of our democracy, our way of life, and our planet didn’t hang in balance. Today they do, and only a vigorous response on every level with a special focus on the November elections can prevent such an awful turn of events. No time to shrink in the face of today’s challenges.
Following is the statement by AFL-CIO President Richarch Trumka:
We will never stop fighting for racial and economic justice.
My heart is heavy at the events of the past few days. I watched the video of George Floyd pleading for his life under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. No person of conscience can hear Floyd’s cries for help and not understand that something is deeply wrong in America.
What happened to George Floyd, what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, what happened to far too many unarmed people of color has happened for centuries. The difference is now we have cell phones. It’s there for all of us to see. And we can’t turn our heads and look away because we feel uncomfortable.
Racism plays an insidious role in the daily lives of all working people of color. This is a labor issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue, and unions are the community. We must and will continue to fight for reforms in policing and to address issues of racial and economic inequality.
We categorically reject those on the fringes who are engaging in violence and destroying property. Attacks like the one on the AFL-CIO headquarters are senseless, disgraceful and only play into the hands of those who have oppressed workers of color for generations and detract from the peaceful, passionate protesters who are rightly bringing issues of racism to the forefront.
But in the end, the labor movement is not a building. We are a living collection of working people who will never stop fighting for economic, social and racial justice. We are united unequivocally against the forces of hate who seek to divide this nation for their own personal and political gain at our expense.
We will clean up the glass, sweep away the ashes and keep doing our part to bring a better day out of this hour of darkness and despair.
Today and always, the important work of the AFL-CIO continues unabated.
It’s not just about Joe Biden stepping up. He should, for sure. But the leadership of the entire Democratic Party and democratic movement has to step up as well. It takes more than a village to win an election.