Howard Zinn’s analysis of the abolition of slavery quoted in the previous post knocked me on my ass. I’ve heard several analyses of what brought slavery to an end and why, but I wasn’t prepared for this one. Thus, my one word commentary–DAMN!
Zinn’s A People’s History is the first history text I’ve ever undertaken of my own volition to read from cover to cover. It is an emotionally difficult book to read by myself. It’s actually depressing at times to see how much we think of as new or breakthrough that just isn’t. As a nation, we’ve been on the same treadmill for a while in regards to many things. Every once and a while we’ll jump off, pick the treadmill up and relocate it, but I’ve had to accept that much of that movement is lateral. For instance, the run up to the 2001 US War in Iraq was in broad strokes identical to the run-up to the US Mexican War of 1845. In similitude, post-Revolution American cities saw their own Occupy movements silenced with the same authoritarian prerogative being exercised now.
So too we see in the instigation of the US Civil War a pattern and purpose that has since repeated itself time and time again. Zinn continues his insight, “With slavery abolished by order of the government–true, a government pushed hard to do so, by blacks, free and slave, and by white abolitionists–its end could be orchestrated so as to set limits to emancipation. Liberation from the top would go only so far as the interests of the dominant groups permitted. If carried further by the momentum of war, the rhetoric of a crusade, it could be pulled back to a safer position. Thus, while the ending of slavery led to a reconstruction of national politics and economics, it was not a radical reconstruction, but a safe one–in fact, a profitable one.”
In light of Zinn’s incisive analysis, the failures of American societal integration and other attempts of sub-set diversification since all make sense. Diversification fails when it is managed so as to be “orderly” or “non-offensive” or “fair” to the already privileged because these purposes smack of the very fear and prejudice and preservation of power that diversification is meant to overcome. To abolish the tyranny of inequity, one must also abolish the purposes for which that tyranny was established: one must die to them… daily.
This brings me to the Wild Goose Festival. Ours is not the first attempt to make room for everyone to celebrate a common hope in faith, music, art and social justice. What may be distinctive, however, is that we have caught in the wind two course correctives from our lead goose, the one we’re chasing. One is that the festival is not ours alone. The other, that at its best the festival will privilege those routinely (historically) underprivileged at other such gatherings.
The implication seems pretty straight forward enough: extend ownership of the festival to those routinely underprivileged who are most committed to making room for everyone else. But once articulated, it dawns on me how seldom this is done. Most often those privileged within a particular construct try to accommodate others without abdicating power (power is privilege; privilege is power), which creates a tokenistic dynamic that inevitably breeds resentment, alienation and contention.
Now, I am not naive. Un-privileging the previously privileged will almost inevitably lead through resentment and contention as well, even for those of limited privilege in the old construct, because at least initially there is a lot of uncertainty about one's place in anything new--no one wants to risk and end up losing ground. The traditionally privileged within any construct have historically used this angst among those of limited privilege to sew seeds of doubt about the wholesale dismantling of an established order. Ask Gabriel (Prosser), Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner and John Brown how effective it is. Ask Gandhi and King. It works like a charm. And because there are so few examples of social orders or organizational dynamics not built upon oppressive inequities--because there are so few who have risked such a radical (to use Zinn's term) restructuring of thinking and practice as that advocated by Jesus (what would he know?)--those of us who have reason to believe something better is possible postpone it until some distant point in an idyllic future, when happiness and peace will subdue us against our wills and not be dependent upon our good-faith energies toward maintaining it.
At the chance that my sardonic commentary in the last sentence has missed its mark, let me be clear: I don't buy it. The beauty of an earth made new costs more than some flimsy wish for a picturesque future bought and paid for by someone else's heroism. For all those mindful of such things, yes, I'm making a very theological statement (everything we do or say makes a theological statement). "Jesus paid it all" to create the possibility of "a new heaven and a new earth," but we too must give back all we accumulated under the old order to live into the new. That starts now with abolishing the structures of inequity we've tried to preserve for fear of how vulnerable a new order might leave us. So don't be surprised when you see increasing numbers of women, people of color, queer, interfaith and differently-abled participants in the crowds and on stage at WGF next year and for years to come. And get this, although they will likely be open to all respectful inquiry, their invitations in large part will be to speak about something other than being women, people of color, queer, interfaith and differently-abled.
I know! That may sound all wild-and-crazy, even unsafe, but then again, it is no tame goose that we're chasing.