We Cannot Compromise on the American Vision: Equality for All
There’s been a conflict in this country ever since the era which gave it birth: a conflict between those who have wanted to maintain traditions of privilege and domination, and those who have wanted a country which treats its citizens equally, and guarantees equal rights for all. The vision of equality has prevailed in the conflict thus far, but only by the sustained effort and sacrifice of its citizens.
Even before 13 British colonies joined together to form the United States of America, there was a growing number of colonists who declared that they were equal to their brothers in Great Britain, and deserved to be treated equally. In Great Britain, eligible citizens had representatives in Parliament. They had a voice regarding the policies which applied to them. That was not true for the colonists. British mercantile economics assumed that the mother country had to dominate its colonies: what mattered first and foremost was the welfare of Great Britain. The colonists were subordinate. Conservative colonists - “Tories” - had no problem with that. Tradition, heritage and authority meant more to them. But a large number of colonists could no longer accept their treatment as inferiors. First they argued for equal treatment, and, when this proved impossible, they rebelled. In defense of their rebellion, they declared that “all men are created equal,” and that governments existed to secure their inherent rights, specifically to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. This was the American Vision.
Even as the USA was being created, a growing number of Americans were deciding that slavery had to be abolished. One reason was the growing perception that the Africans being used as slaves were also men. That meant slavery was in conflict with the American Vision, which declared that all men were created equal. But there were plantations in America, and plantation economics assumed it was necessary to have slave labor to be profitable. In the plantation system, what mattered most was the welfare of the plantation owners, and they were not about to give up the source of their wealth. They were supported by those Americans who were not about to forget their tradition and heritage of superiority over Africans and their descendants. Politicians tried to forge compromises between these conflicting positions, but it was impossible. Slavery was either acceptable or it was not. A brutal war followed, after which the American Vision was made manifest in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in the United States.
Around the same time that Abolitionism was gaining force, a growing number of Americans were declaring that the American Vision also applied to women. At the least, women should be able to vote, just as men could. The prevailing tradition assumed that men should dominate women; that women, being inferior, should be subordinate to men. Many Americans were unwilling to set aside the Traditional Vision of male supremacy. But advocates for women’s suffrage engaged in civil disobedience, lobbied, picketed, marched, gave speeches, submitted petitions, issued publications and campaigned in individual States to establish their equal right to vote. Eventually, the American Vision prevailed, and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution established the right of American women to vote.
In the years that followed, however, it became clear that more than Constitutional Amendments were needed to achieve the American Vision. Faced with the threat of equality for African-Americans, Traditionalists created State laws, known as “Jim Crow” laws, to ensure that African-Americans would continue to be treated as inferiors. Other laws and traditions ensured that American women would continue to be treated as legally and socially inferior to American men. By the 1950’s and 60’s, growing numbers of American women and African-Americans were finding their subordination intolerable. They protested, boycotted, marched, lobbied, campaigned, educated, filed lawsuits, and engaged in civil disobedience, all to establish that, contrary to tradition, the American Vision required that they be treated as equals, not as second-class citizens. Eventually their rights to equal treatment became a matter of law, through passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But Conservatives continue to believe in the Traditional Vision of dominance and subordination, superiority and inferiority. They continue to reject the American Vision, that all American citizens are created equal and have equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, regardless of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, and religious beliefs. So Conservatives continue to rally, lobby, campaign and legislate against equal treatment for all.
What does that mean for Progressives? It means our struggle to achieve the American Vision must also continue.
This is not a clash between two so-called “tribes.” This is a clash between two Visions for the future of our country.
On one side are those who want to maintain the Traditional Vision and heritage of domination and inequality based on religion, or race, or national origin, or sex, or sexual orientation, or gender identity, or whatever. As the Occupy Movement pointed out, we also have unequal treatment in this country based on wealth. The wealthiest 1% of Americans are treated as superior to the remaining 99%. The wealthiest 1% can evade and lower their taxes, so that the tax burden falls more on the 99%. The wealthiest 1% can use their extreme wealth to shout over their opponents and buy legislators who favor them. The wealthiest 1% can even damage the national economy and still get positions of trust in the Federal government. And Conservative free-market-fetishists, tradition worshipers and wealth supremacists -- those who presume that the wealthiest are the worthiest -- are working to keep it that way.
Opposing them is the Progressive Movement. We want to make real the American Vision of equal rights for all citizens. There will either be equality or inequality. Limited equality is continued inequality. Delayed equality is continued inequality. And inequality is abhorrent to the American Vision of equality for all.
This is why we cannot compromise. The American Vision is our birthright as Americans. We could not compromise on having a voice in government. We could not compromise on the abolition of slavery. We could not compromise on voting rights for women. We could not compromise on equal treatment for citizens regardless of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age or disability. We can no longer compromise on equal treatment for citizens based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And we cannot continue to compromise the rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for 99% of Americans for the sake of the 1%.