Aug 22, 201712:55 PMOpen Mic
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Don’t be blinded to real threats by dead Confederates
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Last week, I was engaged in a "spirited discussion" about the Confederate marker tucked away in a dark corner of a Madison cemetery. I'm happy that Mayor Soglin acted on this quickly and decisively, and I appreciate his statement on this issue, as well. Yet, my point of view is well summed up in one sentence from Mayor Soglin's statement — “Taking down monuments will not erase our shared history.”
While it's well past time that the Confederate markers and monuments are taken down, for several reasons I question why we are fighting over this at the moment. By asking the question, I mean no disrespect to the people who are offended by these markers on principle, nor — in particular — to those who suffered and died under the 250-plus years of slavery in America, and the many who continue to suffer and die under the inequality that has been slavery's legacy since.
As a lifelong activist and advocate, I sometimes find that it’s difficult to be both. The activist in me approves of tearing down these monuments by any means necessary, as soon as possible. The advocate in me wonders if this is good, effective strategy. After thinking about it for a few days I’ve broken down why the activist and advocate in me aren’t aligned on this issue. Here are the reasons:
1) Distraction: Until Charlottesville, this issue was hardly on anyone’s radar. Confederate monuments are being taken down all across the country. While their removal has drawn protests by the Right, few on the Left knew or cared about either the monuments or the protests against taking them down. Granted, Charlottesville was a national disgrace, but the intense focus on this matter since has taken our eye off of other urgent issues. Just over a week ago, we were on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, and apocalypse-level threats to our environment, social justice, education, security, health, and economy continue. Yet, this issue has sucked all the air out of every other aspect of the Progressive agenda. We didn’t pick this fight to be our next focus, and now it’s the most important thing on our agenda to the exclusion of all other issues. While we do need to respond, we can’t be so easily distracted.
2) Slacktivism: Lord knows we need some easy wins on our side, but this one smacks of check-box activism. How many people who aren’t otherwise engaged put their full focus and all of their outrage in posts on Facebook about this forgotten grave marker, and then within short order it was solved? While that’s great, this isn’t all that there is to do. People are going to give themselves medals for showing up this one time and — in their minds at least — making a difference. But is this “a difference”? This brings me to my next point.
3) Metrics: What are we measuring here? How many fewer people are going to die because we removed a little-known marker that has for decades mouldered in a dark corner of a seldom-visited cemetery in an otherwise Left-leaning city? By removing this marker, how many more people are we going to feed? Educate? Shelter? How much less hate will there be in the world? (How do we measure that, even?) How many more people will have signed up for our cause? As importantly, how many fewer — or more — will sign up for the other side? I’m not a cynic, but at the end of the day I’m a pragmatist. Moral victories are great and all, but since people are checking the box that something got done here, I would like to see the bottom line on what this means. I suspect that our side got more people to commit to us; I suspect that the other side did, too. I suspect that just as many (or maybe far more) tuned out for good, which we know bodes well for the other side. That’s another thing I’d like to talk about.