Revolution cannot afford the great cost of division. This is a truth that has revealed itself in not only the war that built our nation, but in the acts of resistance meant to keep that very nation from crumbling atop its democratic foundations. While revered by many, the Founding Fathers have overpromised and under-delivered a world which works and thrives on behalf of all people. Evident in the name we call them by, the motives of our revolutionary “heroes” are rooted in exclusion; by muffling the voices of women and minorities, the “fathers” we look up to are men who have, in effect, dampened the promise of liberty.
In her letters to her husband, Abigail Adams’ plea for inclusivity speaks to the shortcomings of “well-intentioned” men who fail to practice what they so ardently preach. She warns John of his inherent bias, as a man, towards the very tyranny that he tries to escape: “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands… all Men would be tyrants if they could” (Adams 121). Despite his comfortable upbringing, John Adams could see. He could see injustice in the tyrannical government that denied the basic rights and privileges of a democracy, and he could see a future that granted those rights to “all” human beings. However, he used his sense of sight – a trait common in all able-bodied humans – to elevate himself to a higher moral standard. A higher moral standard than the women who have seen, too. Women who have known oppression. Women who have cared for and defended and waited on the men who have subjugated them to second-class citizenry. Women who wanted to leave the home, their cult of domesticity, and join the fight in more meaningful ways. Women like Abigail.
Capitalizing on the chaos of oppression, factions have always worked to weaken the goals of those who seek change. Excluding groups of people – whether based on their identities or their backgrounds or other, unjustifiable means for prejudice and hate – who share with you a common enemy is an unfortunate act that is not only antithetical to combating oppression, but it is one that happens too often. After the travesty of Donald Trump’s election, I made the trip to Birmingham twice in one week. The first night, I participated in a protest alongside what appeared to be a diverse cast of Never-Trumpers: “the Black Lives Matter folks, the gay rights activists, and the white liberal environmentalists of Avondale,” as a community organizer explained later. However, as the protest continued, chants of “Black Lives Matter,” a universal statement meant to acknowledge the injustices faced by the black community in a never-ending age of police violence and institutional racism, were never returned by the other groups.
I met with the community organizer a few days later, and he lamented the state of his city – the segregation and gentrification not only of neighborhoods, but within a group who would otherwise have a common vision, a common motive for enacting change. For him, the irony was crippling. Himself a black man, he spoke of the raging homophobia in the black community (though BLM was created by queer, black women). He spoke of the racism he felt in the dismissive glances from white hipsters in Avondale bars. He spoke of his own vision, of a physical space where each group could congregate and converse and unite against the man who will continue to pass laws that affect them all.
The Founding Fathers set this precedent. A precedent for some, though not all, white, straight women to mute black and trans voices in the March on Washington. A precedent for division and dispute across groups. With their diluted vision of democracy, built on the faulty premise of prejudice and patriarchy, it does us no justice to look to men like John Adams as heroes. At best, they were ordinary men, with ordinary beliefs, who happened to fight against a system that was not, by any means, ordinary. And in doing so, they owned slaves and slaughtered Indians and kept their women “safe” and where they believed they belonged: the home. If we replicate this behavior, as we have done in the recent past, that vision of “equality for all” will remain merely a mirage.
Adams, Abigail. The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family:
1762-1784. Cambridge & London: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975. 120-21.
Taylor, C. J. "Miller Center." John Adams: Life Before the Presidency-Miller Center.
N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017