By Alan Bean
Scott Henson thinks direct action is rarely a strategic tactic, but every once in a while it works. Scott acknowledges that the tactic was highly successful during the civil rights movement but argues that the authorities quickly learned to avoid brutal and public acts of oppression. Demonstrations may be therapeutic for those involved, he says, but they rarely accomplish strategic ends.
Occupy Wall Street is offered as Exhibit A.
I am temperamentally inclined to endorse Scott’s position. Demonstrations have always made me uncomfortable. When I participate it is usually because, as in Jena, the folks on the receiving end of injustice sometimes take strength from public displays of shared resolve. The Occupy Wall Street folks brought needed attention to the growing wealth disparity in our country and its baleful influence on the political process, but when I talked to them I got the uneasy feeling that they were engaged in a form of therapeutic ritual with little strategic content.
Liberals must understand that, in states like Texas, we hold a minority position on almost every issue. I don’t feel good about the fact that, if the GOP abortion law is passed, only women in the Golden Triangle between Dallas, Austin and Houston would have access to safe abortions. But most folks in Texas are solidly pro-life and a lot of progressives, myself included, aren’t going to the wall for abortion rights. I accept the logic of Roe v. Wade, but am too morally conflicted by the issue to get fired up about it.
I was proud of Wendy Davis’s bold filibuster. But I wish we could get African Americans, Latinos and progressive whites in states like Texas to join hands on issues like hunger, mass incarceration, public education and immigration reform. Abortion may be a defining issue for white liberal women, but you can’t build a broad-based coalition on pro-choice politics–not in the great state of Texas. I would drive to Austin to protest mass incarceration, border militarization, and cuts to poverty programs and public education; but if abortion is the issue, I’m staying home and so will the vast majority of African Americans and Latinos.
The gerrymandering of electoral issues in Texas has been used to defeat outspoken progressives like Wendy Davis, but the redrawing of political maps is really about making white political hegemony endure as long as possible before it is washed away by the shifting demographic tides. (See Wade Goodwyn’s excellent analysis of Texas politics.) Democrats will start winning elections in Texas long before the party is popular with the white electorate. Smart progressives will understand this and start building a coalition that engages the passions of black and brown Texans.
Southern Republicans will adjust their position on immigration and public education when they need a respectable harvest of minority votes to win. That day will come, but its a long way off. It may be hard to win the presidency without minority support, but Southern elections at the national and state levels can still be won with white votes. Leading with abortion is a bad way to win moderate white support and a sure-fire recipe for alienating Latinos and African Americans.