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.

Declaration_of_Independence_Equality.jpg

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%.

Background Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism

A Struggle for Power: The American Revolution, by Theodore Draper, Times Books [Random House] 1996

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism_in_the_United_States

No compromise with slavery : an address delivered in the Broadway Tabernacle, New York, February 14, 1854 / by William Lloyd Garrison.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seneca_Falls_Convention

The Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women%27s_suffrage_in_the_United_States

http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

https://tavaana.org/en/content/1960s-70s-american-feminist-movement-breaking-down-barriers-women

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_Civil_Rights_Movement_(1954%E2%80%931968)

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" Speech, August 28, 1963

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Comments

longtalldrink's picture

It's a shame more of us cannot write as well as you, but believe me, we feel in our souls what you have written so well...thanks.

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14 users have voted.

Well done is better than well said-Ben Franklin

Raggedy Ann's picture

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%.

What is the solution? Indeed, we cannot compromise on these things, but we are. How do we stop compromising? How do we establish a democratic society? - because we are not living in one right now. We need solutions. Mine? Revolution. Aggressive

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"They'll say we're disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war." Howard Zinn

SnappleBC's picture

@Raggedy Ann

Eventually I got to the place of "not compromising". I wrote it quite clearly on TOP. "I will not vote for a plutocratic candidate under any circumstances. I'm a member of the 99%. Let the rich folks cast their own votes."

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A lot of wanderers in the U.S. political desert recognize that all the duopoly has to offer is a choice of mirages. Come, let us trudge towards empty expanse of sand #1, littered with the bleached bones of Deaniacs and Hope and Changers.
-- lotlizard

Raggedy Ann's picture

@SnappleBC
I quit compromising in the 2016 election. We were just discussing our distaste for our gubernatorial candidates. Not compromising. That election is this fall so unless there is a third party I agree with, I won’t vote that office.

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3 users have voted.

"They'll say we're disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war." Howard Zinn

Eagles92's picture

We need another Boston Tea Party: a way to unite against government oppression, and forced participation in a vision that does not align with ours.

But how? It's not like we can dump an F-35 into the harbor.

Maybe this isn't yet the point, though. Maybe the point--the starting point--is to foster, and elevate the voices of, the next Thomas Paine(s): those (like yourself) who can effectively raise the public consciousness and rally support for radical change. I think Progressives struggle to coalesce under a single issue, and (at least in my own personal experience) often feel paralyzed about "what to do." Words like yours can be the unifying force we need to get off our collective asses and forge ahead.

Thanks for the essay.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

--possibly even later.

Between the late 70s and 2001, there was an ongoing, concerted attempt to destroy the American Vision you describe--and not by picking out one particular group to subordinate in a white/black, male/female, straight/gay kind of way. Those forms of prejudice continued, of course. But in the 70s a new project arose: to destroy the fundamental infrastructure of representative democracy. This was done.

Thus, it now makes no sense to discuss defending the American vision or extending the benefits of American democracy--or republicanism--equally to all. The American vision you describe is dead. The latest date you can put on its demise is September 14, 2001.

What you are left with is extending the benefits of an oligarchic police state equally to all. Thus, we struggle for a world in which white people get shot by cops exactly equally often to black people, men make shit wages exactly as often as women do, and we promote an equal number of POC and white women--and LGBT people--into high-profile managerial roles (politicians, media figures). We aren't there yet. That is what reformers are struggling for.

That's why the focus in all these movements has shifted so that they don't touch the concerns of the ruling elite. Anything involving money, the ability to take power in the government or media, war, or the operations of the police state is verboten. The focus therefore gets put on marriage equality, sexual harassment, rape, statues of Confederate generals and other slaveowners, and, in general, the ways that the 99% treat each other shamefully.

It's not that these concerns are unimportant. It's that the context in which you address them is shattered. It's not about extending benefits or the American vision. All that is gone.

Should we still be angry when the 99% treats each other shamefully, with bigotry, hatred, exploitation? Of course. Does an oligarchic police state have any benefits or vision worth extending to anybody? No.

A system in which only a tiny handful of predators has power to influence policy is not a system in which struggling to extend the benefits of full citizenship makes any sense.

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The part of John Edwards could easily be played by a burnt out light bulb.
--strollingone

The issue is patriotism. You've got to get back to your planet and stop the Commies. All it takes is a few good men.
--Q

Morire de cara sol.
--Jose Marti

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal I am sad and I despair to say I agree with you. Our law makers are corrupted, our laws corrupt. Our lives and relationships are polluted by politics, our morality poisoned by capitalism and Calvinism. We aren't a nation, we're a psychosis.

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mimi's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal @Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

Anything involving money, the ability to take power in the government or media, war, or the operations of the police state is verboten

Does it mean we have to divest from money and make sure that those, who use our money to take power in government and media, lose theirs?

Organize a new communal currency and trade in that one for the necessities of your daily life?

What could be used to back up a new communal community-based currency? Does that mean a currency reform or monetary reform would help? I read through the Wiki page for Monetary Reform, but gave up...

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2 users have voted.

“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?” - Gandhi

mhagle's picture

Thank you for this beautiful essay.

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2 users have voted.

Marilyn

Let's save the planet for our kids. Tree Hugger to the end.

SnappleBC's picture

I'll add on that if you dial out the zoom lens further, you see that this appears to be a periodic struggle among human populations. I'm inclined to think of it as a built-in function of humanity. We allow the strong to prey on the weak. Eventually, the strong become too bold and then the herd stampedes and there's some sort of correction. I suspect this is a function of built-in wiring in regards how humans build packs and dominance hierarchies.

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3 users have voted.

A lot of wanderers in the U.S. political desert recognize that all the duopoly has to offer is a choice of mirages. Come, let us trudge towards empty expanse of sand #1, littered with the bleached bones of Deaniacs and Hope and Changers.
-- lotlizard

Alex Budarin's picture

@SnappleBC

I've been thinking about that, too. Based on recent discoveries in political psychology, it appears to me that human groups naturally include people whose political orientations fall all around the authoritarian/anti-authoritarian spectrum. Authoritarian parents can have an anti-authoritarian child. [See the case of the lady who was raised in, and left, the Westboro Baptist Church, due to her openness to alternative views] Anti-Authoritarian parents can have an authoritarian child. [See the case of the liberal parents who disowned their neo-Nazi son] There are also reports of Hasidic youth who leave because of curiosity, and Amish youth who rebel against authoritarian demands. I believe these are traits associated with anti-authoritarian political orientations.

My conclusion is that there will always be political friction within social groups. How bad it gets, and the end result, are dependent on a lot of other variables.

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2 users have voted.

"All Life is Problem Solving" - Karl Popper

Lily O Lady's picture

chairs on the Titanic, the gaping hole in the side which is climate change will sink us all. OK, so the 1% will commandeer the lifeboats, but I suspect that soon the living would envy those they caused to be dead by running us all into the iceberg.

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3 users have voted.

"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

Wink's picture

that the Haves have been kicking the Have Nots' asses since 1607 Jamestown and 1620 Plymouth Rock, and the Have Nots are just now figuring it out.

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the little things you can do often are more valuable than the giant things you can't! - @thanatokephaloides. All about building progressive media. (-1.9) On Twitter @winkradio.

Thanks for the wonderful essay and for saying so well what needs to be said far more often, in order to baffle the Big Lie bullshitters.

If we fail to hold to our principles both generally and specifically, especially in such basics such as regards inherent human worth - equality of the human rights of all - what are we then, and where can we hope to go but into savagery or universal collapse?

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1 user has voted.

Psychopathy is not a political position, whether labeled 'conservatism', 'centrism' or 'left'.

A tin labeled 'coffee' may be a can of worms or pathology identified by a lack of empathy/willingness to harm others to achieve personal desires.