When it comes to democracy in America, it may be fair to invoke Charles Dickens’ opening phrase of his novel A Tale of Two Cities to characterize this moment: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . “
Most recently, since the January 6 violent storming of the Capitol, media coverage has focused obsessively on the worst of these times: the anti-democratic organized riot aimed at taking over the Capitol building in the name of Donald Trump and white supremacy and at overturning the presidential election Joe Biden won last November.
This obsessive focus is not without reason. We learn more and more each 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 the effort to forestall progress towards the achievement of democracy in the United States by maintaining and insisting upon the status quo of white supremacy. And we need to uncover and understand as much as we can about this organized anti-democratic riot and the future plans of those involved.
But this singular focus has also obscured the most joyful, promising, and genuinely revolutionary development in America that should give us hope in the possibilities for actually achieving democracy in America.
I’m talking about Black voter turnout and the organizations, such as Black Voters Matter and Fair Fight Action, which played an enormous role in mobilizing this vote against the behemoth concerted enterprise to suppress the Black vote, to maintain our anti-democratic white supremacist political system.
When we look at the record Black voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election and in the Georgia senate run-off election, we have to recognize this phenomenon as an American Revolution, or insurrection, indeed.
We might even call these efforts THE American Revolution for true democracy–the best of times for achieving democracy in America. After all, the American Revolution against British colonial rule in 1776 did not target white supremacy and thus did not instore a full and genuine democracy. That was left to be realized. Indeed, as Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons argue in their historical study Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, the struggle for independence in 1776 not only “promoted a form of anti-elite scapegoating that deflected discontent away from the inequities within colonial society,” it “was also a drive to expand and intensify the system of White Supremacy. People of color were not simply ‘left out’ of the Revolution—they were among its targets.”
The challenge to voter suppression is a renewal of this revolution with the goal of achieving democracy for all—or, rather, democracy itself, as we can’t really call democracy for some a real democracy. White supremacy is a form of authoritarianism, so we need to recognize we’ve been living, are living, in an autocratic system. As I wrote in an earlier piece, racism isn’t simply a defect of our democracy; it’s a negation of democracy.
And we need to recognize that the violent takeover of the Capitol was a response to this revolution occurring in the name of democracy against white supremacy.
The storming of the Capitol has wrongly been called an “insurrection” or a “coup,” as I’ve written previously in the pages of PoliticusUsa.
It wasn’t an insurrection, or a rebellion against our established system; it was an attempt to preserve the status quo of white rule that the surge in African American suffrage has threatened.
It’s important we understand the causal relationship between the revolutionary black voter turnout and the violent repressive takeover of the Capitol.
We need to talk about and positively reinforce the democratic possibility this revolution, this overcoming of voter suppression, represents so we who desire democracy know where and how to direct our energies and resources and so we can clearly see the already paved path to achieving democracy.
Watching the news these days and seeing our Capitol peopled with masses of military personnel, one might be fooled into thinking that only possible response to a concerted campaign to perpetuate suppression is more suppression.
We have seen that an incredibly effective antidote to suppression is relentless organizing to enable and release the full force of our democratic energies.
Achieving democracy through mere suppression will not work; it’s a fool’s errand.
To return to the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens also characterizes the historical moment he represents, writing, “ . . . it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . .”
Let’s be careful not to choose foolishness and endorse suppression as the means of achieving freedom.
Let’s be sure to focus on how this moment is also the best of times for the prospects of American democracy.
Dickens also in A Tale of Two Cities reminds us time again that love is always stronger than hate.
In political terms, acting lovingly in part entails fully recognizing people, hearing their voices, granting them the opportunity and right to take part in choosing and shaping the world they live in. Love means enabling expression, not repression.
Achieving democracy means favoring love over the hate we’ve experienced by the boatload the past four years and that we saw in the invasion of the Capitol. It means choosing wisdom over foolishness, rejecting war and violence.
As Gandhi reminded us, “The means is the end.” We can’t achieve freedom and peace through violence and repression.
Author bell hooks teaches us similarly when she writes about love:
All around us the culture of lovelessness mocks our quest for love. Wisdom is needed if we would restore love to its rightful place as a heroic journey, arduous, difficult—more vital to human survival and development on planet Earth than going off to slay mythical dragons, to ravage and conquer others with war or all other forms of violence that are like war. Wisdom is needed if we are to demand that our culture acknowledge the journey to love a gran, magical, life-transforming, thrilling, risky adventure.
Too many in America, caught in throes of misinformation and conspiracy theories, are busy 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 U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many 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, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.