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Back Of The Bus?

by Mytheos Holt, published

Proposition 8's opponents seem to be quite intent on riding the Alienation Express all the way into the last stop on the railroad of irrelevance. However, having already commented on their disgraceful behavior, it seems redundant to condemn their most recent antics without some level of reflection as to the reasons for their behavior. By that I do not mean the question of what they hope to achieve (they obviously want the bill overturned), but rather why they have chosen these specific tactics.

The answer seems self-evident on one level. In reading the article which was most recently posted about Proposition 8's opponents, one has difficulty not being reminded of the actions of two notable lobbies; one historical and the other contemporary. To see which groups I am referring to, think of the tactics Proposition 8 opponents are using: Engaging in mass boycotts so as to bankrupt the organizations that are intent on denying them their so-called "rights", while simultaneously producing lists of businesses and private individuals who have donated money to the pro-Proposition 8 cause. Obviously, the boycotts are meant to invoke the Civil Rights coalition of the 1960s, and the Montgomery bus boycotts specifically, but what might the publishing of names and addresses signify? Intentional or no, this behavior is reminiscent of anti-abortion groups that publish the names of abortion-providing medical professionals on their Web sites.

Leaving aside the irrelevant question of whether one agrees or disagrees with either of these movements, they both have one thing in common. They are (or were) both dedicated to the idea of expanding civil rights for previously disenfranchised groups. It would be unnecessary to dredge up quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. proving as much, but if articles like this are any guide, the pro-life movement considers itself very much to be part of the same legacy. Even as Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece has joined the pro-life cause because she sees it as part of her uncle's struggle, the idea that pro-life activists see themselves as heirs to the Civil Rights movement is beyond question.

I shall not consider the question of whether such a comparison is unnecessarily self-indulgent. That is irrelevant and up to the reader to decide. What is relevant is that whether the comparison is accurate or not, the fact remains that if such a comparison were accurate, it would provide the group utilizing it with a great deal of rhetorical firepower, as well as some level of license to take more extreme protest measures. (After all, whoever stands in the way of the heirs of civil rights will almost certainly end up on the wrong side of history). As such, an incentive clearly exists for all sorts of groups to try and frame themselves as continuing the fight for civil rights.

This incentive is not a bad one, rhetorically, but it becomes dangerous at the point where a group such as the pro-life movement (or the opponents of Proposition 8) believe so strongly that the comparison is true that they mistakenly believe that everyone else also believes it is true. If such a belief enters the collective unconscious of a political movement, then a very dangerous implication also begins to grow, which can best be laid out in the following syllogism (with Movement X signifying the group who believes the comparison):

Proposition 2: Movement X = The Civil Rights movement

Proposition 3: Therefore, Movement X is on the correct side of history

Such a syllogism is logically correct, but morally dangerous because most activists who believe themselves to be on the "right side of history" therefore believe that whatever excesses they go to can be excused by virtue of the fact that they are, a priori, on the right side of history. Such a belief can and often does lead to ruthlessness, political tone-deafness and alienation of one's allies, all of which appear to dominate the current anti-Proposition 8 movement. This is unfortunate, because whatever ideological vision one holds, Proposition 8 is not a settled question and should not be treated as such. The seeds of backlash are being sowed, and the opponents of Proposition 8 should take some humility before it is too late and they are crushed.

Perhaps most dangerously, the proponents will then have the authority to write the history books.

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