Skip to content

A Pep Talk for the Left

April 3, 2013

I’m re-starting my spluttering blog (after setting it up over a year ago, then leaving it dormant, neglected and hidden from search engines) at a time when Australian politics, and in most of the rest of the world for that matter, is bleak. So in my first blog post to you my fledgling readers, I’m offering up a little pep talk for the Left: the true believers as it were (not necessarily the same as those remaining in the ALP) who might be in search of a reason to go on and keep agitating for change.

It’s necessary to remind ourselves on a daily – perhaps hourly – basis that social change in the face of powerful vested interests is indeed possible.

So consider this your daily affirmation my fellow activists and concerned citizens.

A twist on the self-help genre as it were: collectively harnessing the power of positive thinking when it comes to our activism. And let me be up front, I’m no Pollyanna. Moderate doses of cynicism pepper my worldview. I’m a realist. Do not expect saccharine or the overuse of exclamation marks here. But we need to salvage some hope. For me, it’s either that or putting a bucket over my head and bashing it against a brick wall to save me from the self-referencing group-think that often passes for political commentary in this country.

So step away from the chocolate that is covering over your anxiety for humanity and the planet. And no, you are deluding yourself if you think that a Ryan Gosling meme will somehow make things better. What we really need is to remain cognisant of how sometimes the seemingly most intractable issues can reach tipping points or critical mass, and from there things can change very quickly.

Pause for a moment, stop composing that sarcastic tweet, and consider how far we have come on one particular issue that not too long ago seemed insurmountable: the campaign for same sex marriage rights.

As the US debates Prop8 and the possible overturning of DOMA, efforts on both sides have been turned up – but it is the rhetoric of the conservatives that is now sounding increasingly bigoted and out of touch with reality in the face of a groundswell calling for change. Whatever the US Supreme Court decides in this current ruling, the conservatives have lost the culture war. So much so, that many conservatives are quickly re-positioning themselves as the silenced and oppressed minority because, as one blogger, Josh Marshall, put it, ‘they say they’re losing their right to calls gays gross and weird.’ (This is the same tried and true allegation of ‘political correctness’ they have played in many debates against what they portray as an out of touch, state-funded and protected ‘liberal elite’).

Yet for many years, public opinion has been ahead of legislation and the naysayers in many countries. Finally, some commentators are reluctantly eating their previous pronouncements and falling into line.

New York Magazine recently posted this timeline of gems from conservative Fox News host Bill O’Reilly demonstrating how in just over eight years his bigoted tune has been forced to change when it comes to same sex marriage. It’s worth taking a trip through it again here:

October 27, 2004: “I’ve been saying that all along, that if you open the door for gay marriage, then you have to have the polygamists and the triads and the commune people and everybody else, right?”

April 14, 2005: “We told you this would happen, if gay marriage is legalized, then much chaos would follow.”

June 5, 2006: “Traditionalists like me believe the USA has become strong because of its core values, the freedom, individual responsibility and institutions like traditional marriage, which foster common goals.”

July 10, 2006: “The gay marriage thing to me, I don’t understand why it’s so important for the secular progressives in this country, the people who want to change America fundamentally and every way, why this is the lead issue. The L.A. Times, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe. These people are going, ‘Oh, my God, what are you doing? How can you not see the civil rights aspect of this?'”

September 25, 2006: “To this culture warrior, gay marriage is not a vital issue. I don’t believe the republic will collapse if Larry marries Brendan. However, it is clear that most Americans want heterosexual marriage to maintain its special place in American society. And as long as gays are not penalized in the civil arena, I think the folks should make the call at the ballot box. Traditional marriage is widely seen as a social stabilizer, and I believe that is true.”

January 18, 2009: “My tact is that you don’t change the definition of marriage for one group, homosexuals, because you have to change it for all the groups. So you don’t do it, particularly if people in California vote on it, don’t want it, they think that the heterosexuality is a societal stabilizer.”

May 10, 2012: “Unlike abortion nobody gets hurt when gays marry but it does have deep implications for what kind of society we want to be. Therefore, individual states should decide the question.”

August 2, 2012: “It is not wrong or bigoted to believe American society is stronger and that the family unit is better served when marriage is between a man and a woman. It is also not wrong for homosexual Americans to want to get as much parity as they can.”

December 3, 2012: “I’ve got nothing against gay marriage, it’s not my issue. All right, I want homosexual Americans to be happy and to pursue happiness.”

March 26, 2013: “The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That’s where the compelling argument is. We’re Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else. That is a compelling argument. And to deny that, you’ve got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the bible …. I support civil unions I always have. All right, the gay marriage thing, I don’t feel that strongly about it one way or the other.”

Now, I recognise marriage as essentially a conservative institution and we should be calling for more than this. For a start housing, health care, freedom from violence and the rights of all people, not just the rights of middle class gay folks to a state-sanctioned, expensive celebration of their love. But marriage for those seeking it is an important legal step on the road to equality and I support that.

I’m also not naively looking to O’Reilly as having really evolved into anything beyond a pompous, entrail-eating conservative shock jock pandering to wavering gay Republicans. But the fact that he has had to step away from his publicly stated position is resounding evidence of how far we have come. And all of this has been achieved through a tireless campaign met with continued bigotry, misinformation from a small but organised and well-funded minority preaching hate.

We’ve still got a long way to go in the battle for equality, but for those of you still hanging on to your familiar shred of cynicism, here’s an example from the past of fear-mongering, distortion of science and outright lies that draws clear parallels with what we continue to find in the current discourse on climate policy. In 1989, in response to a worsening AIDS epidemic and growing alarm from many sections of civil society, the Murdoch-owned UK newspaper, The Sun suggested that only junkies, gays, bisexuals and victims of tainted blood transfusions could contract the AIDS virus, and it claimed, ‘Anything else is homosexual propaganda’. It later went on to pronounce we should be teaching our children that sodomy kills. Well Rupert, big, fat wrong! And most people in the US, Australia and the UK – where you run your media empires – have managed to see passed lies and half-baked, irrational arguments used to encourage homophobia.

Social change is not a simple linear movement. Sometimes it is a three steps forward, 10 steps back kind of shuffle in a very dangerous direction. Current realities can be shifted, but that does not usually happen if we always opt to pragmatically fall in line behind the ‘feasible’ options.

Neoliberals knew not to do that. One clear example where they held on to seemingly implausible ideas is education. In about three decades we’ve moved from a publicly-funded, largely free system of education to one where parents with ‘school vouchers’ control the funding of schools via their market-like decisions. Now we have markets in education with schools competing for students and their funding depending on the numbers they attract. Unthinkable not too long ago.

On the question of gay marriage, however, the moves have been in favour of an overwhelming majority of people able to exercise their reason and show compassion. When it comes to the question of equality and same-sex marriage, for the first time in a while, it is us who occupy the hallowed ‘middle-ground’ and are sounding rational and moderate.

Time magazine cover, 8 April 2013: Gay Marriage Already Won.

Time magazine cover, 8 April 2013: Gay Marriage Already Won.

Whether or not you are thumping on your Bible and experiencing some cultural whiplash upon seeing the recent cover of Time Magazine (hardly a far-left champion of political causes), the progress made is undeniable.

And Hallelujah for that. Or for the staunch atheists who remember the 80’s, in the words of the divine Kate Bush, ‘Don’t give up now’.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: