Closing Ranks Against the Common Enemy: Reaching Out to the Right
Cheryl Seal (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the wake of an article I wrote a few weeks back entitled "Chilling Deja Vu: Etc.," about the eerie similarities between Hitler's early days/Stalin/the GOP's 1936 propaganda machine and Bush and the "new GOP," I received an astonishing outpouring of mail. The majority of letters were from people who thought the article was right on target.
However, I also received my first genuine hate mail, complete with threats, from right wingers, including neo-Nazis, who had read the piece (it was apparently posted many places in cyber space). Some of these notes, of course, don't bear repeating and were promptly deleted and/or reported to the necessary cyber authorities.
Interestingly, a very different outcome evolved from a handful of letters I received from angry conservatives, some who would be described as "freepers" - a group that should not be lumped in with neo-Nazis. I have tried hard - although not always successfully - to follow a policy (borne no doubt from having taught writing workshops where egos need to be handled with care and patience) to always try to respond respectfully to angry comments if they are not obscene or threatening.
So I applied that rule when I responded to furious diatribes about how we liberals were paranoids trying to tear everything down - and how COULD I possibly compare Bush to Hitler? First, I said I was sorry for the reader's intense anger, and that I appreciated the fact they took the time to write. I then briefly tried to address their comments in a respectful manner.
EVERY SINGLE WRITER replied to my notes, and the replies were uniformly polite - some even apologized for having ranted at me. What ensued, to my amazement and delight, was a dialogue between left and right. In more than half of these exchanges, the conclusion was reached that we share a common enemy, one as dangerous as Hitler: the corporate power mongers, for whom Bush is merely a puppet (along with lobbyist-owned Congresspeople).
The realization flooded in on me that the alienation experienced by many people we progressives dismiss as "right wing" is not born of hate (as I say, we are not talking Neo-Nazis here). These folks are full of misinformation and suspicion, but we progressives must take a big part of the blame for that. When I took the time to address them respectfully, to listen, and to explain my position clearly (not in political correctese, legalese, or collegiatese), they listened, and in some cases, found they actually agreed with what I was saying.
The trouble is, we progressives too often don't take the time to explain what we consider to be self-evident truths. Or, in the case of scientists, we couch everything in such dense terminology that the facts are inaccessible to the average person (in fact, you can't even access most science journals on line, even if they were readable by the average person). So what happens is that the corporate propagandists and their politicians make themselves accessible, and present information on the environment and global warming - subjects many "right wingers" actually do care about - in user-friendly language, and make sure their material is oh-so-easily available. In other words, they beat us to the punch with misinformation every time. Meanwhile, we look like arrogant intellectuals who look down, talk down, and put down less "erudite" folks who happen to have a more conservative viewpoint.
When I lived in Maine in 1990, the Pentagon tried to unload one of its soon-to-be-a-white elephant cold war monuments on our community. They wanted to put a 300-foot-tall, godawful-ugly GWEN tower on a pristine hilltop on the edge of a nature sanctuary. At first, my very conservative neighbors (I used to call them rednecks - yep, I'm one of them arrogant progressives too!) were militantly supportive of the project. It was for Uncle Sam, it meant two jobs (forget the fact the two jobs were mowing the grass and plowing out the access roads), and the only people against it were those liberals "from away."
My woodsman friend Martin gave me some good advice. He said if you want to convince these folks of anything, then you'd better do your convincing face to face. So my 13-year-old daughter and I went door to door, as did a handful of other people - it really doesn't take many to make a difference - and talked to people, some of whom I'd never met.
I just told them as respectfully and simply as I could what the tower was really for (alerting a few leaders in Washington of an incoming nuke so they could retreat to bunkers while the rest of us took our chances), the impact it would have on wildlife (deadly especially to the peregrine falcons that had just been released) and the health dangers (the ultra-low-frequency waves the thing emitted periodically were linked to a host of health woes).
When a town meeting to address the tower issue was held some weeks later, over 200 people showed up - this in a community, counting all outlying areas, of less than 1,000 people! Almost all were AGAINST the tower. The end result: no tower.
The point is, I think we need to start reaching out both to our left (Greens) and right (conservatives). I think we all have a common enemy, as does Mamma Earth, that supercedes all differences. And, fundamentally, as human beings, we have much more in common than we have differences. (Even if we don't believe that subjectively, it only takes a glance at the human genome to prove the point. Any differences even across the races are miniscule and purely superficial.)
However, the corporate spin doctors have become extremely skillful at dividing and conquering. They now have to work overtime, however, because the left and right are starting to close ranks against the common enemy. There were even freeper-type groups marching with the G8 demonstrators! Now the spin is becoming more outrageous in order to perpetuate the myths.
Tonight I caught part of a right wing talk show (morbid fascination!). The propagandist was trying to spin the anti-globalization movement as being a right wing thing and that in fact, it is the United Nations that is trying to create an empire-like globalized economy. This shows how desperate the corporate "beast" is to protect itself! The UN is, of course, one of the only things actually standing in the way of a vicious, Exxon-style form of globalization. The propagandist also kept trying to tie the disarming of citizens to this agenda (i.e, pro-globalization means anti-gun). But these are the buzz issues the corporate machine uses to keep faction battles blazing and thereby keep everyone's attention diverted from the real evil.
But my experience this past week, as well as that in Maine, shows that the knots of spin are not all that hard to unravel: people generally recognize the truth when they see it - when they are allowed to see it. So the challenge for us progressives must be to speak out both forcefully and inclusively. This is not the same thing as trying to say whatever everyone wants to hear - let's leave that to the co-dependent legislators who have helped land the Democratic party in its current corner. Instead, let's get the truth out there, and in a form that the "common man" we are supposed to represent can relate to. Once the truth is out there, it will speak for itself.