On February 1, 1960 four young, black men, all students at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, took a bold step on the road to integration and civil rights for all. They sat down at the lunch counter in the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina where the official policy was to refuse service to anyone but whites. Denied service by Woolworth’s personnel, the four men remained seated and refused to leave.
The local media arrived in droves. The men left at the end of the day but returned when the store reopened, this time joined by more students. Within days hundreds of people had joined the protest. Attention from the “sit-in” sparked a wave of similar actions across the South involving both black and white students. In July 1960 the Woolworth’s lunch counter where the movement began was integrated. Across the nation a host of other establishments followed suit.
We had taken a giant step on the road to being a better nation.
On June 22, 2018 we took a giant step in the other direction.
That is the date on which the owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, Stephanie Wilkinson, refused service to Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary. Sanders, present at the restaurant with seven other friends and family, was asked to leave by the owner because of her political beliefs and to uphold the owner’s “standards”.
Supporters of the move by the owner of the Red Hen will draw a clear distinction between refusing service on the grounds of race and refusing service on the more general grounds of finding a patron or her political beliefs objectionable. On narrow, legal grounds they will be correct. The owner of the restaurant in question was legally entitled to take the action she did.
On much more fundamental grounds, supporters of Ms. Wilkinson’s actions, will be completely off base and will have missed the much more important and disturbing implications of this small-minded and discriminatory action. Where once we were a nation striving for inclusion and unity, we are now a nation dividing against its self. And, in some strange twist of fate, it is the left, the supposed vanguard of social justice that is leading the charge toward bigotry and demonization.
The civil rights movement, which swept the United States in the late 1950’s and 1960’s began with a focus on racial discrimination. Its goals were the full integration of black Americans into social and political life. This was, in brief, a demand that America live up to the terms of its founding documents, that it demonstrate that “all men are created equal”. Black Americans and the millions of white Americans who supported them wanted all Americans to have the right to sit down together in public establishments, to study together in public schools and to vote side by side at the polls.
The women’s movement that followed on the heels of efforts to integrate America was built on the same foundation. It pushed for women to be allowed to choose their own direction in life, to work where they wanted at what they wanted and to be able to seek fulfillment in their lives just as men did. It was about inclusion and opportunity and fairness.
The progressive movement of today increasingly appears to have left these kinds of ideals and aspirations behind. No more is there talk about opportunity, choice or individuals making their own way. Now there is clear right and wrong, judgment and condemnation. You are either on the right side of history or you are on the wrong side, and if you have chosen poorly you have apparently forfeited your rights and lost any claim to fair treatment or consideration. You can be shouted down. You can be driven from public eating establishments. You can be called the vilest of names and jeered at public gatherings.
Perhaps the greatest single failing of Marxist ideology, which forms the backdrop for so much of modern “progressive” thought, is its delineation of the role of the “party”. According to Marx and Engels, we will all eventually end up in some utopian state wherein we share equally in the means of production and their fruits. In the meantime, however, imperfect as we are, we will have to follow the dictates of the “party”, a self-appointed group of “intellectuals” who know better than we how to manage our lives or chart the way forward.
Members of the party, smarter, more sophisticated and more enlightened than we, will guide us on our path to perfection. They will also, of course, need to take whatever action is required to prevent backsliding, purify us of deviant thought and ensure that only correct thoughts and behaviors are allowed. We may ultimately make it to utopia, but along the way a great many of us may have to be sacrificed, humiliated, disciplined or perhaps ultimately imprisoned. Purification is not possible without stern measures after all.
Americans of all persuasions should be terrified of the direction we are taking and the powers that America’s new progressives claim for themselves. The mob that humiliates and degrades your neighbor today can just as easily turn on you tomorrow. The whirlwind once unleashes destroys all in its past.
The owner of the Red Hen had all the legal right in the world to refuse service to Sarah Sanders. That she chose to invoke that right says something very, very disturbing about the path we are walking. It is only one hundred and sixty miles from Greensboro to Lexington, but somehow today it feels a great deal further than that.