This Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the March to Freedom down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The UAW will be there, as they were under the leadership of Walter Reuther, and will re-enact the march where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech-a speech he drafted at Solidarity House, the home of the UAW. Earlier this month, President Obama met with the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated 50 years ago and so did not make it to the August March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
In July, the AFL-CIO will host a conference to reflect on those past 50 years. But this summer, in North Carolina, almost 500 Moral Monday protesters have been arrested fighting to stave off legislation designed to roll back major advances in civil rights won in the aftermath of the 1963 marches in Detroit and later in August. So, while this is a summer of civil rights commemoration, it is also a year of active struggle over the same core issues of voting rights, jobs and economic justice.
Our nation is locked in a debate as old as the country’s founding. The proponents of the new nation, and framers of our Constitution, spelled out the issues involved in creating a national identity out of disparate states in the Federalist Papers. The authors of those papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, were responding to the unwieldy gridlock of factions that were stalling the formation of a United States of America.
Sparked, in part, by Shays’ Rebellion, a protest against taxes and austerity imposed by the state of Massachusetts in the face of a post-Revolutionary War economic downturn, the proposed U.S. Constitution was, in part, directed at a unified position of the 13 states in addressing an American war debt crisis.
Today’s tea party is not really linked to the Boston patriots, but to Shays’ Rebellion and the later Whiskey Rebellion, protests by individuals against resolving the obligations of the broader society to the common good.
Five of the Federalist Papers had a theme of addressing why the Constitution would solve the problems of factions, particularly when groups would work against the rights of some citizens or against the broader public good. It is worth noting how Madison attributed the ultimate source of political factions:
“The most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.”
Opposition to a United States and to the Federalist Papers came from those who saw the economic interests of a slave South and industrializing North as a divide that could not be united. But there was a different divide in addition to slavery. The point of government in the South was to support the wealth of a few, even if it meant denying people basic liberty; government was solely the servant of the wealthy. The real faction and divide was over the debate of the meaning of government and democracy.