After signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin summed up the colonists’ situation:“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Those who were intent upon positive change–in that case, separation from England–needed to stick together, or they’d get picked off one by one.
I thought about Franklin’s quote when I attended the Women’s March in Indianapolis on Saturday.
The March began with a rally, and throughout the hour or so of speeches, women–and a considerable number of men–continued to pour into the American Legion Mall. It’s a huge space, but it filled up. There were great signs (my favorites: “We, not Me” and “Haven’t we taken this ‘anyone can be President’ thing a bit too far?”). Most of the speeches were good–if some were a bit long and not entirely relevant. But the weather cooperated, the crowd was large and enthusiastic and the causes being highlighted were all important.
There was one unfortunate discordant note.
The first speech was given by two very young co-presenters representing Black Lives Matter, and they delivered a full-blown attack on the women in attendance–women who were virtually all there as allies. (They reminded me of those pastors who deliver sermons criticizing people who don’t come to church– to the people sitting in church.)
What was so distressing about their diatribe was that most of the points they were making were valid, and could have been made in a way that brought people together rather than dividing and offending them. As my son said, halfway through their very lengthy diatribe, the message should be “let’s all fight White Supremacy,” not “All you white women are White Supremacists.” (And that was before they told an overwhelmingly Democratic crowd that Hillary Clinton was corrupt, privileged and racist, and deserved to lose.)
This is the sort of counterproductive behavior that makes me worry about November.
I have been very critical of the GOP (with good reason), but honesty compels me to recognize that a portion of the Democratic party is also composed of zealots who would rather be right than win elections–who prefer assuming postures of moral superiority to the hard work of coalition-building and persuasion. If theirs are the voices that voters hear–if their tirades drown out the voices of those who are equally passionate but less strident and self-righteous–Democrats could approach November splintered and unable to catch the wave that seems to be building.
Let me make this clear: there are all kinds of injustices that Americans absolutely need to address. There is an ugly history we need to recognize, especially when it comes to the treatment of people of color–African-Americans, Native Americans, immigrants. These issues are critically important–but they will not be addressed, let alone remedied, if Republicans are still in control after the midterms.
You don’t win elections by unnecessarily alienating your friends and allies.
Democrats need to ask themselves what they want: to set themselves apart, cloaked in self-satisfied moral superiority? or to win and be in a position to make things better?
I think we should listen to Ben Franklin.