Progress is always impossible

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I find it difficult to keep in mind, but: the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was impossible.

Their goals were vague and unattainable; their tactics off-putting; their leadership unpopular; their internal divisions insuperable; their support in the mainstream of America tepid and moderate. Most of all, perhaps, their timing was awful—Postwar America was conformist, conservative and fearful, the exact opposite of a fecund field for progress.

And yet.

This is always true, isn’t it? The Gay Liberation movement was definitely like that, as was the labor movement, the movement for abolition, for universal suffrage, for universal education. The movement for independence from England. All impossible, all with off-putting tactics, unpopular leaders, insuperable internal divisions, tepid support from within the mainstream, and awful timing. And inevitable failure.

Lots of failed movements have been impossible, too, of course. And movements I don’t agree with, too—the movement to make abortion illegal and unsafe, the English Only movement. MAGA. Britain’s “Leave” campaign. And the success of even the most successful movements has always been partial.

Mostly I’m just saying, that along with practical thinking, along with acknowledging limitations and shortcomings and reversals, along with everything else—when we think of the Black Lives Matter movement, whose impossible goal is simply that the police should not be able to kill black people with immunity and that no-one should feel terrorized by law enforcement but everyone feel protected, we should keep in mind that many drops really can turn a mill.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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