Friday, July 13, 2012

A Reminder From Our Past

Caption: Frederick Douglass, around the time of the American Civil War.

Image credit: unknown/Wikimedia

Joyce Arnold reminded me yesterday of another apt quote from Frederick Douglass:

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

Frederick Douglass quotes

Juan Cole has a poster of it up at his place. The comment there is telling. The Occupy movements identify with Douglass. I suspect that's because he figured out and articulated the way oppression works a century and a half ago.

We see this process working out all the time in our modern life. When police are allowed to brutalize protesters, when our government is OK with torturing and imprisoning people without trial, while they let the rich get away with crashing the economy. In all of these cases, these things happen because most Americans don't feel like objecting.

Sometimes, we need reminding. I can't think of anyone better to do that than a guy who knew a thing or two about what it's like when not enough people care if your rights are the ones being violated.

UPDATE/Afterword: On the subject of that closing paragraph, Joyce Arnold provides a postscript in an article today:

It’s really hard to make the case that “liberty and justice for all” actually means for “some.” An honest version might be something like, “with liberty and justice for some of the people all of the time,” but that’s kind of like being offered an apple pie made with all the apples in one slice, and it’s been taken.

Queer Talk: Romney ‘Dodges’ LGBT Question, Obama ‘Challenged’ Regarding AIDS Conference

Note that, as the title suggests, that quote is part of an article on gay rights. Even though I've written on that subject several times in the past, a glance at the keyword cloud along the side of this blog will show there's no separate keyword here for "gay rights", or anything of the sort. That's a deliberate choice. To me, gay rights, womens' rights, and minority rights are all human rights. You don't get to have them by denying them to others.

Frederick Douglass was one of the people who taught me that.

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