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  For Flacks' essay, "Reflections on Strategy in a Dark Time," click here.

Democracy and Diversity

by Norm Fruchter What I most value in Dick Flacks' essay -- along with his clarity of vision and focus on translation into practical politics -- is the reminder of the anti-bureaucratic instinct, the participatory-democratic core of the new left's politics. Flacks helped me remember that during the 60s, SDSers were not only alienated by the state socialism practiced by the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satraps, but were also opposed to domestic efforts to establish a bureaucratic welfare state in this country. What we learned, in initial efforts at community organizing, was that service bureaucracies couldn't substitute for community-based, locally-run efforts to provide childcare, healthcare, family support, neighborhood economic development,
decent housing. For that reminder, for the connections of 60s politics to the radical democratic tradition, and for Flacks' effort to define a progressive agenda for current struggle, I'm deeply grateful.

What I miss is some guidance on issues of race and diversity. As Flacks argues, such issues often become identity politics. But their centrality in American life means that race and diversity are also survival issues for people of color, for immigrants, increasingly for gays and lesbians, and I'd argue for all of us committed to pluralism. Perhaps the current volatility of conflicts about race and diversity represents the last desperate effort to sustain one of America's primal myths: that this country was built by, and for, White male heterosexual Christians. But suppose Waco and Oklahoma City, Proposition 187, and the latest killing of Blacks or immigrants of color by skinheads or GIs, are only the terrorist tips of far deeper icebergs.

The corporate elite that Flacks defines as increasingly uninterested in preserving welfare state solutions to class conflicts is also increasingly unable to manage or finesse the challenges of diversity. As the realities of a plural society sink in, the tensions created by the continuation of policies generated by White racial and heterosexual supremacy will increase. So will the pain of the resulting social costs. To change this crippling dynamic, we need both a vision and a commitment to making this country genuinely diverse in every aspect of its political, economic, social, and cultural life. I think that developing that vision and commitment, and making it focus on practical politics, is as important as the other components of the agenda Flacks sets out for us.

Originally published in the February/ March 1996 issue of Boston Review

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