Friday, June 2, 2017

Dissent - A Tenet of Democracy

Dissent according to Google means "to hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed." Dissension in its truest form is a tenet of democracy. It is one of the sweetest fruits of freedom.  Starting on on December 19, 1773, when the most important act of dissension took place in the Boston Harbor.  The Sons of Liberty, revolting against the previously accepted practice of paying taxes to England, threw chests of tea overboard into the Boston Harbor.   Dissension was the only way.  They didn't necessarily know what was coming next.  But what they did know, without a doubt, was that taxation without representation was just wrong.  This was a pivotal moment of dissension for our country, and there were many more to follow.

Now, 244 years later that country can't seem to disagree without having a nervous breakdown.  Any act of dissension is deemed unpatriotic. There is an expectation to get in line.  There are those who are quick to remind you of the soldiers who died for what - for you to spit on the country.  These days online it is like the age of McCarthyism.  Friends argue incessantly, un-friend each other,  and hide each others posts if opinions don't align with their own.  To be clear arguing is not the same as ideological sparring. Sparring does not evoke name calling. All of this madness is simply confounding. Edward R. Murrow made it clear when he said, "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."

The nation we call home, right now was built on the backs of dissenters.  We have not descended from a line that merely gets in line. Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us that, "Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels - men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." There were two pivotal workers strikes in Pennsylvania - one in 1889 the other in 1909.  Both strikes were to protect workers wages and in one instance to protect the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers union.  In both cases there was violence. Yet, both cases resulted in the preservation of workers rights and the continued existence of the steelworkers union. These workers had to dissent. In one instance the railway car builders were being paid via a pool system that changed daily at the whim of the foreman.  They had to eat, they had families and wages that weren't set were prohibitive.  What these workers did was in perfect alignment with the dissension that founded this nation.

Yet today, whenever an act of dissension turns even remotely uncivil there is a high brow clearing of the throat elitism that reveals our collective ignorance of what real dissension and nation building looks like.  We are still a nation under construction.  Yet we act like any act of disturbance is beneath us as a nation.  Instead of understanding that discord brings about a new day. We find proof of that in music - harmonic resolution can only occur with discord.  We find additional proof in science  - with the smooth finish of a stone that only happens when friction takes place.  Yet, we treat the state of the nation as if it were as fragile as a fresh egg.

This is a nation that has endured one movement after the other.  Each movement found its footing in the act of dissension. Dissension can be a petition, a letter to a leader, a blog, a strike, a walk, a boycott, and according to google dissension can be merely "holding" an opinion. If your daughter participates on a schools sports team she can thank Bernice Sandler and the 269 letters of complaint she filed that eventually led to Title ix.  The simple act of boycotting grapes grew to a boycott that included 14 million Americans in 1969, causing the Delano growers to sign with UFW - which brought much relief to the farmers and workers that were paid poorly and treated unfairly. Each act has led to a necessary change.  In the words of Antonin Scalia  "A good, hard-hitting dissent keeps you honest."

As we move through this time of true national division - we have to stop pretending that dissension is unpatriotic. Just the opposite. In order for our union to remain strong we must dissent when the situation calls for it.  We need to be able to sit around a table with eight seats and eight different opinions.    If you can't do that, if you can't support the ideal of dissension, then I fear that it isn't democracy you love. Simply put, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members..... Democracy represents the whole, not the faction, not the squeaky wheel, not the richest, not the poorest, not the most religious, not those who have been here longer, not the newest of us, but all of the above.  And from time to time, dissension must occur, ensuring and proving the durability of a free and strong nation full of the truest of patriots.

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