In this increasingly charged climate of fear, anger and mistrust, it is terribly important for progressives not to get too happy with ourselves simply because we’re “on the right side of history.” That cliché is only true to the extent that we are on the right side of this unfinished ‘now,’ and interact with those in the opposing camp as fully and irrevocably human and refrain from talking to them like children and looking at them like monsters.
In addition to advocating the removal of memorials of intimidation or the celebration of human objectification in any of its forms, that Green Party and progressive Democrat voters and candidates also offer important, charitable and positively charged particles of the good and progressive moments and figures in our local and national histories.
If even I, as a progressive, feel the painful and disorienting affects of stripping away the psychological comforts these celebrations of the past carry with them—and I question the motives of those who are so quickly prepared to burn it all, to tear down any monument with any connection to anything smacking of conservative guilt or liberal shame, those ready to leave history behind with ideology, who claim to have no need for some foundation, some ground, some green pasture to begin with—then I am highly concerned that people to the right, those who at their base need to conserve something, to hold onto something solid, might become resentful of a process they see as historically revisionist, morally bankrupt and socially destructive.
Remembering history, literally putting the body of it back together, re-stitching the lining of a story that should be exciting and kind, and not simply an excuse to condescendingly scoff as we tear down the idols celebrated by our neighbors, cherished precisely because they were erected not simply to honor something or someone, often for the wrong reasons, and even more often by the wrong storytellers, but celebrated because they are physical means of ordering and making sense of what these neighbors of ours see as their reality.
We know it’s a mis-told or mistakenly weighted reality, an ideological addiction to an inhuman narrative. So reveal the truer stories. Let’s tear down any idol, any celebration that mistakes or replaces human beings with things, any monument to our proclivities toward seeing other people as means to our own ends rather than what human beings really are: free and extraordinary ends in themselves.
So take them down, yes, these frozen-hearted gods, tear them out of our story’s illustrated edition, but for all our sakes, let’s not replace them either with our own idols—and we have them if we’re honest with ourselves—or even worse, with nothing at all. Let’s remind our neighbors that in addition to painful and often evil facts, history is never void of human love, never empty of some good thing somewhere, perhaps in a small place we’ve glossed over.
We must remember that, in addition to its moments of evil and monuments to terror, beyond our idiot tales of the more daily and banal failures we cannot forget and resolutely refuse to celebrate, despite its bone deep flaws, history has also brought us here.
Here, in our broken fragments of what often strikes us as endlessly and meaninglessly bizarre, right here we are speaking in and to and for a place where equality and free speech and new ways of thinking and narrating our stories are real possibilities and often actually happy happenings. We may not live in a city or a nation where the liberty and self-determination of all people is a realized thing, but we are close enough to imagine a free and cooperative life together.
I say we find characters or churches or court cases, anything we can get our hands on that helps tell the counter-narrative that conservative brains need; we must unearth any recoverable past, any institutional or individual act that made a flawed place better.
We should build monuments reminding us that some of the past has brought us to the good stuff, to the better things we now enjoy, to the better stories of our unfinished now, and to those green futures we are working for together.
Adams, a former professor of religion, humanities and literature, is a graduate student at Yale University.