Place democracy's success ahead
The idea of the American civil rights movement as a "dress rehearsal"
for something even larger might seem incredible, considering the massive
social and legislative changes that resulted. For civil rights pioneer and
theologian Vincent Harding, the movement of the 1950s and '60s was a dress
rehearsal for the late 20th century movement to expand democracy even more.
of your own, says Vincent Harding
Nearly 100 people attended a Feb. 6 Black History Month address given by
Harding, professor of religion and social transformation at Iliff School
of Theology, University of Denver. In his talk, titled "The African
American Freedom Movement: Rehearsal for America," Harding also challenged
students to do as their counterparts of 30 years ago did and place the success
of a movement above their individual success.
"I am coming to your for assistance in the work I'm doing to figure
out a dual obsession," Harding told his audience. "This first
is a deep, nagging obsession with the future of democracy in America and
the world. I think we've seen that democracy never comes in as if the winds
of March, but must be fought for, struggled for, developed, nurtured and
deepened for it to provide a rich life."
Harding's second obsession concerned Americans' capacity to realize their
own best humanity. "We don't come to that kind of humanity automatically,"
he said. "It
has to be struggled for. So the question is, how do we struggle for our
own best humanity?"
Harding said he has come to believe that the civil rights movement was "an
initial exploration into the pro-democracy movements of the late 20th century,"
and may prove to be an important resource for continuing the struggle for
expansion of democracy in the United States.
Just as the struggle for freedom for African Americans in the South required
a variety of national and local organizations focused on that goal, Harding
said the larger, more complicated struggle for broader freedoms throughout
America will require even larger networks of new and old organizations committed
to the expansion of democracy.
Expansion of democracy, Harding said, refers not only to the continuing
struggle of African Americans, but also of all minorities as well as women,
gays and lesbians, people with disabilities and lower-income citizens.
"I'm not only talking about organizations, I'm talking about individuals
as well, and that includes individuals not of high profile," Harding
said. "There have been lots of individuals who decided it was time
to make the issue of social justice and freedom the central concern of their
lives." Harding said those individuals chose not to follow the path
of career advancement in order to advance democracy's career in America.
"This was part of the rehearsal," Harding said. "Young people
were rallying points of dedication. Do we see those kinds of individuals
emerging today in the struggle for the advancement of democracy? There must
be people who are willing to take themselves out of the mainstream and do
something difficult. The civil rights movement was grounded in people who
took themselves out of the traditional path and said, 'We've got a job to
do that's more important than anything else.'"