When it comes to democracy in America, it can be fair to use Charles Dickens’ opening sentence to his novel A Tale of Two Cities to characterize this moment: “It was the best time, it was the worst time. . . “
Most recently, since the violent assault on the Capitol on January 6, media coverage has obsessively focused on the worst of these times: the anti-democratic uprising aimed at closing the Capitol building in the name of Donald Trump and white supremacy take over and upset the presidential election that Joe Biden won last November.
This obsessive focus is not without reason. We learn more and more every day about the orchestration of this event, the key players, its deadly intentions, and the potential, even likely, involvement of some of our own congressional leaders. In short, we are learning more and more about the forces organizing efforts to prevent progress on the path to democracy in the United States by upholding and insisting on the status quo of white supremacy. And we need to uncover and understand as much as possible about this organized anti-democratic insurrection and the future plans of those involved.
But this unique focus has also obscured the most joyful, most promising, and truly revolutionary development in America that should give us hope in the possibilities of actually achieving democracy in America.
I am talking about the turnout of blacks and the organizations like Black Voters Matter and Fair Fight Action, which have played a tremendous role in mobilizing this vote against the gigantic concerted enterprise to suppress the black election in order to maintain our anti-democratic white supremacist political system.
If we look at the record turnout of blacks in the 2020 presidential election and the Georgia Senate runoff, we must recognize this phenomenon as an American revolution or insurrection.
We might even call this effort THE American Revolution for Real Democracy – the best time to achieve democracy in America. After all, the American Revolution against British colonial rule in 1776 did not aim at white supremacy and thus did not result in full and genuine democracy. That still had to be realized. Indeed, as Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons argue in their historical study of right-wing populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, the struggle for independence in 1776 not only fostered “a form of anti-elite scapegoat that fostered discontent among the people Diverting Internal Inequalities Colonial society was also a drive to expand and intensify the system of white supremacy. People of color were not simply “excluded” from the revolution – they were part of its goals. “
The challenge in suppressing voters is to renew this revolution with the aim of achieving democracy for all – or rather democracy itself, since for some we cannot really call democracy real democracy. White supremacy is a form of authoritarianism, so we need to recognize that we have lived and are living in an autocratic system. As I wrote in a previous piece, racism is not simply a defect in our democracy. It’s a negation of democracy.
And we must recognize that the forcible takeover of the Capitol was a reaction to this revolution that was taking place in the name of democracy against white supremacy.
The storming of the Capitol was mistakenly called a “rebellion” or a “coup” as I wrote earlier on the PoliticusUsa website.
It wasn’t an uprising or a rebellion against our established system; It was an attempt to uphold the status quo of white rule that the rise in African-American suffrage has threatened.
It is important that we understand the causal link between the black revolutionary turnout and the violent repressive takeover of the Capitol.
We must talk about and positively reinforce the democratic possibility that this revolution, this overcoming of electoral oppression, represents, so that we, who want democracy, know where and how we can direct our energies and resources, and so that we can follow the already paved path to achieve democracy clearly.
If you look at the news these days and see that our Capitol is populated with masses of military personnel, one might be fooled that one possible response to a concerted campaign to maintain the oppression is more oppression.
We have seen that an incredibly powerful antidote to oppression is tireless organization to enable and unleash the full force of our democratic energies.
Achieving democracy through mere repression will not work. It’s a fool’s game.
Returning to the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens also characterizes the historical moment he depicts by writing: “. . . It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of stupidity. . . ”
Let us be careful that you do not choose stupidity and advocate oppression as a means of achieving freedom.
Let us focus on the fact that this moment is also the best time for the prospects of American democracy.
Dickens reminds us again and again in A Tale of Two Cities that love is always stronger than hate.
In political terms, loving action means in part to fully recognize people, to hear their voices, to give them the opportunity and the right to participate in choosing and shaping the world in which they live. Love means enabling expression, not oppression.
Achieving democracy means preferring love to hatred that we have experienced from the shipload over the past four years and that we saw when the Capitol invaded. It means choosing wisdom over stupidity, rejecting war and violence.
Ghandi reminded us: “The means is the end.” We cannot achieve freedom and peace through violence and oppression.
Author Bell Hooks teaches us similarly when she writes about love:
All around us, the culture of lovelessness mocks our pursuit of love. Wisdom is necessary if we want to restore love to its rightful place as a heroic journey, arduous, difficult – more vital for the survival and development of man on planet earth than killing mythical dragons, others with war or all other forms devastate and conquer by violence that is like war. Wisdom is necessary to demand that our culture recognize travel in order to love a great, magical, life changing, exciting and risky adventure.
Too many in America, plagued by misinformation and conspiracy theories, are preoccupied with slaying mythical dragons rather than engaging in the truly wise, loving, and heroic activities of the real revolution for democracy.
Tim Libretti is a professor of American literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. As a longtime progressive voice, he has published numerous academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, and the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.