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American "patriots" rally against "uncivil" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What is July 4th to America?

What is it to one of our indigenous tribes, living in a colony on their own land, surviving an almost-complete genocide? What is it to the black American, hearing family stories of a great-grandfather lynched, of memories of enslavement and realities of contemporary captivity? Of the migrants and refugees fleeing for safety from violent regimes in power because of US foreign policy only to find more cruelty? That is the 4th of July for the family with two parents and kids working multiple jobs just to afford to barely live? Of Latinx family being told to speak English as they pass down family culture? Of a family with a brand-new mother needing to go back to work way ealier than she should because they can no longer afford unpaid parental leave? Of..?

Perhaps a better question is what is the story of July 4th we tell ourselves? Is it not the celebration of incivility? Is it not a story of revolt? Is it not the celebration of riots and taking up arms in voice for a new and even radical ideal? For an idea of by the people and for the people? An idea, even if one we never reach, yet an idea, nonetheless, and one rooted in rebellion.

The United States, in its many faults, was founded on incivility and rebellion (in all of its founding actions, from revolution, to slavery, genocide, imperialism, etc). America was founded by rebels. Those who celebrate the 4th of July are celebrating the use of incivility to further a cause. And incivility and rebellion have been a part of every great stride this nation has taken forward to perhaps one day embrace its high-minded ideals.

“Civility has long been used to discredit, demean, and gaslight those who have fought the tyranny of America. It is the language of abuse, of telling a victim of abuse to not provoke their abuser, as one does nothing to end the violence other than to politely ask or debate the merits of said abuse; it puts the fault of oppression on the feet of the oppressed.”

Not all uncivil acts in U.S. history have been embraced equally, indeed those of the habitually oppressed are often chastized for acts of rebellion to thwart off the oppression of this nation. With calls for civility, to wait and calmly debate your humanity and ask pleasantly for your freedom. It has been only through violence, rebellion, civil disobedience, and protest, all often labeled in their time “uncivil,” have these changes taken place. No oppressor decides to stop because the oppressed asked nicely.

Civility has long been used to discredit, demean, and gaslight those who have fought the tyranny of America. It is the language of abuse, of telling a victim of abuse to not provoke their abuser, as one does nothing to end the violence other than to politely ask or debate the merits of said abuse; it puts the fault of oppression on the feet of the oppressed.

It is foolish to call for civility in the face of cruel men, as incivility is the heart of the downtrodden in America. It is indeed foolish to be civil as civility requires all partners to agree to the rules and engage in good faith. There are always individual exceptions, but, by and large, the right does not engage in good faith; engaging in this debate only aids their cause.

This debate is one of a distraction, as it causes bickering within the left of the “correct tactics,” without actually engaging the right. This is where their tactics of abuse come into play, with when explored the threat is for Trump voters to already vote for Trump, or for them to lash out more than they already are.

Perhaps, the focus should be on energizing ourselves, on creating a vision for a post-Trump America, to be for more than just against the Trump regime. As the right, no matter what the left does, will be energized. They are energized by their own ideas, by their own lies and the very idea of the “The Left.”

They sell the left ideas as toxic and as evil regardless of the tactics the left uses. Even though there is much racism and sexism within the left, the right sees the left at its very idea one of diversity and multiculturalism as a threat. They will say we are all paid by Soros, we are all wanting the “destruction of American values,” aiding a covert Marxist takeover, wanting to hasten the white genocide. Sometimes in not those exact words, but close enough, shades of them perhaps – think of “standing up for traditional America.”

This is not to say you have to agree with every tactic, but don’t engage in the debate, don’t engage with their framing. Keep your eyes on the prize. Yes, look at how they react, but what we do know is they didn’t need the left to act uncivil in order to win electing almost a constitutional majority of GOP controlled states, all the extremist judges, and in the election of Trump.

In fact, they needed the left to be civil to elect President Trump. They needed the middle to react in shock as Hillary Clinton called GOP voters “deplorable.” They needed President Obama too worried about norms to push through Garland during the congressional recess. They needed the left to engage with them as if they, the right, engaged in good faith and civility; a fool’s errand it all was.

Cast away that mindset and embrace the incivility of the past, the incivility that created workers’ rights, that broke the monopolies of the late 19th and early 20th century, that led to women’s right to vote, that led to the voting rights act. They’re scared of incivility. They’re scared because it means we’re no longer playing by their rules. They’re scared because it confronts their power, their space, and their hate. They’re scared because it works.

No, what the left needs to do is motivate itself, its base, to develop a stronger culture of insurgency. The right self-motivated through various manors, but one was embracing the idea of insurgency. This idea of insurgency has already led to changes for the left, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez winning her New York primary race. Insurgent tactics combated the travel ban, until radical right judges upheld it.

It is not time to preach civility: the constitution is in shatters, the GOP is enabling and partaking in the rollout of blatant authoritarianism, and the judicial branch is compromised with reactionary judges.

Perhaps, worst of all, because of insecure voter roles and electronic voting machines, gerrymandering, money as speech, and voter suppression laws, American elections can best be called extremely compromised. You must act as if this fall will be the last time of any semblance of “free elections” this nation, as it currently is, sees. Pelosi and Schumer are impotent leaders who would rather preserve the mirage of civility than fight a Fascist regime. No, the left needs to be uncivil, needs to be insurgent, this is for the heart of America, it’s for its soul.

Regardless of what happens, I don’t know if the United States as its current self ever comes out of this moment. Though perhaps that is for the best as right now we have a chance to imagine something greater than what we were. We have a chance to dig deep and to reach for ideals that never were, to imagine a nation that truly embraces the heart of what it is – a deep and holy multicultural society, embracing its soul such a way the world has never seen. One of arts, science, of digging deep to provide all the resources a human needs to thrive, digging deep to re-shape how we live to withstand the crisis climate change will bring and yet still, thrive.

Now is the time to fully embrace who we tell ourselves we are, through all the policies some or many politicians are scared to embrace, from abolishing ICE, to police and prison divestment, ending of the American empire, to massive climate action at every level, and much more. To create a society based upon guaranteeing a right for you and your family to thrive.

A nation where we shed the skin of our past, as we atone – best we can – all the bones and blood the USA is built upon. Indeed, perhaps it is for the best to shed the skin of what we call America, perhaps that is our way through to embrace the truly American idea of renewal. Maybe our way forward is in an idea of the past, but finally anointed upon all those who reside in its land and upon all those looking for safe shores for their families.

Written by Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn is a Madison native and civil rights activist.

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