“For centuries kings, priests, feudal lords, industrial bosses, and parents have insisted that obedience is a virtue and that disobedience is a vice. In order to introduce another point of view, let us set against this position the following statement: human history began with an act of disobedience, and it is not unlikely that it will be terminated by an act of obedience. …
“The prophets, in their messianic concept, confirmed the idea that man had been right in disobeying; that he had not been corrupted by his ‘sin,’ but freed from the fetters of pre-human harmony. For the prophets, history is the place where man becomes human; during its unfolding he develops his powers of reason and of love until he creates a new harmony between himself, his fellow man, and nature.”
— Erich Fromm; On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying “No” to Power; 1963.
The dissension within the Democratic Party in 2016 has created a divide of historic proportions. As the national convention approaches, both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns believe that they have proven that their candidate has earned the right to be the party’s nominee for this fall’s election. The hostility between the two campaigns has apparently created a level of emotion that prevents any possibility of finding common ground before the convention in late July.
Thus, it begs the question: will it be possible for the Democratic Party to hold together for the November election?
The historic example that some are eager to compare 2016 to is the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. This has been especially true since the events in Nevada. Several of the establishment Democrats engaged in Chicken Little, knee-jerk response, lying about chairs being thrown, and claiming they feared for their safety. The corporate media, being firmly in the Clinton camp, has been all to eager to breathlessly report that the Sanders campaign is attempting to bring down the sky.
There are unconfirmed reports that suggest that other forces — not from either campaign — may be attempting to increase the sense of paranoia, by making threatening phone calls to an establishment party official. If true, I’m confident that the police will soon identify and hold that person responsible. Clearly, such behavior — if it happened — is unacceptable.
It is true that there are ingredients that could combine for a convention as ugly and brutal as Chicago. It would be a shame if that happens. While events from Chicago are an important chapter in our history, it is not because what happened in that city, or the results, were positive. Quite the opposite: it was a display of the authoritarian violence unleashed upon people who were simply exercising their constitutional rights.
Perhaps a better model for Philadelphia to follow would be the 1964 convention in Atlantic City. An important group of Democrats had created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, to challenge the gross violations of party rules by the establishment in their state. Now, there were very real tensions leading up to this. Earlier in the year, while the MFDP had been making its plans, James Forman, of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, had said, “If we can’t sit at the table, let’s knock the fucking legs off.” (See the PBS series, “Eyes on the Prize.”) And the MFDP was in close contact with Minister Malcolm X that summer.
This made the Democratic Party’s establishment mighty nervous. The establishment attempted to discourage the MFDP from coming to Atlantic City, despite the fact that they had every right to. In fact, were the party’s rules followed, they would have been seated and recognized as the legitimate representatives of their state. They had won, fair and square, while the state establishment had cheated to try to deny them their voice.
The MFDP said “No” to power. They were coming to the Democratic National Convention. They refused to accept the establishment’s outright lies, or their promises for a rosy, ill-defined future voice in the party. Instead, they demanded power. This scared both President Lyndon Johnson and VP Hubert Humphrey — two politicians that Hillary Clinton compared herself to in the 2008 primaries.
When the establishment’s lies did not get the intended results, they resorted to the “old reliable” tactics of fear and guilt. The MFDP could be responsible for electing that mad man Barry Goldwater, if they showed up in Atlantic City. But the MFDP was beyond fear: they didn’t feel that stick. They came to Atlantic City by the bus loads. They exercised militant non-violence. They gained power. And they made progress.
Now, think about all the states that Bernie Sanders has won this year. Think about how many people have been dedicated activists in the Sanders revolution. Yet the establishment is paranoid that we plan on attending the convention in Philadelphia! They have attempted to make the same false promises — also known as lies — to us as their counterparts made to the MFDP. Since that hasn’t worked, they resorted to fear and guilt, talking about Donald Trump. That doesn’t cut it: if Hillary can’t beat Trump, then we are definitely correct that the establishment is wrong to select her as the nominee.
We are coming to Philadelphia. You have no reason to fear us. Let’s all conduct ourselves in a civilized manner.