Standard service-to-power, state-reverential propaganda has it that progressive gains are doled out by benevolent state power rather than forced out of the state by organized and sustained social movements. A particularly repugnant version of this myth was offered by Hillary Clinton in an interview on Fox News recently when she said that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do; presidents before had not even tried. But it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives, because we had a president who said, “We’re going to do it,” and actually got it accomplished.”
Hillary should be ashamed. I cannot even think of a more vulgar formulation of the bourgeois argument that inverts social history so egregiously. Apparently Hillary would have us all believe that Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Joshua Heschel (the Jewish MLK Jr.), A. Philip Randolph (beloved trade unionist), Bayard Rustin (revolutionary civil rights activist), A. J. Muste (socialist civil rights leader) – in fact, Randolph and Rustin were principle architects along with MLK Jr. of the famous march on Washington, and it was they who rallied the unions – all of the freedom riders, all of the thousands of activists “whose sit-ins and other organizing forced the government to do something about Jim Crow segregation” didn’t really matter or paled in comparison to the awe inspiring benevolent justice of Lyndon Johnson. As Elizabeth Schulte points out, “Clinton would rather identify herself with Johnson, a Southern politician who was unrelentingly hostile to the civil rights movement as he came to power,” than the nameless thousands of activists who risked their lives and well being organizing and resisting in the streets.
Hillary Clinton’s formulation of the standard rank defense of state power is a mythology of history. Such social gains as civil rights were not enacted by some benevolent state power, some southern white gentleman, but rather, the state was forced to make concessions and concede such gains in the face of massive social protest and activism.
When citizens today not only forget that the rights they enjoy were not initiated by the state - having instead been forced upon the state by massive social protest and upheaval - but go even further and mistakenly believe that the rights they so enjoy - which are being attacked all over again through state mechanisms such as the NSA and policies and laws such as the PATRIOT ACT and Homeland security - were initiated by the state, repressive state forces are then free to conduct business as usual without criticism, objection or even an awareness by the people.
Such historical mythologies, only being tenable with a complete misunderstanding or ignorance of social and political history, is an actual danger.
The government does not exist to protect the common person; insofar as it does, it does so because of the generations of social protest and activism which force the state to grant ever more rights and freedoms. Ultimately states exist – especially in the