By Daren Berringer
Consider these words, delivered by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, during the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Ga.
“America’s not a blanket woven from one thread, one color, or one cloth. When I was a child growing up in Greenville, S.C., my grandmother could not afford a blanket, she didn’t complain and we did not freeze.
“Instead, she took pieces of old cloth—patches, wool, silk, gabardine, crockersack on the patches—barely good enough to wipe off your shoes with.
“But they didn’t stay that way very long. With sturdy hands and a strong cord, she sewed them together into a quilt, a thing of beauty and power and culture. We must build such a quilt.
“Farmers, you seek fair prices and you are right, but you cannot stand alone. Your patch is not big enough. Workers, you fight for fair wages. You are right. But your patch labor is not big enough. Women, you seek worth and pay equity. You are right. But your patch is not big enough. Women, mothers, who seek Head Start and day care and prenatal care on the front side of life, rather than jail care and welfare on the backside of life, you’re right, but your patch is not big enough.
“Students, you seek scholarships. You are right. But your patch is not big enough. Blacks and Hispanics, when we fight for civil rights, we are right, but our patch is not big enough. Gays and lesbians, when you fight against discrimination and cure for AIDS, you are right, but your patch is not big enough. Conservatives and progressives, when you fight for what you believe, Right-wing. Left-wing, hawk, dove—you are right, from your point of view, but your point of view is not enough.”
Jackson’s speech is called “Common Ground and Common Sense.”
A generation later, in 2020, Democrats and Republicans have held their own, very different party conventions.
In the modern era, these events have transformed away from the political gamesmanship of cutting deals to determine the nomination, to a four-day infomercial and argument between the Democrats and Republicans. Now, even the cable news coverage each night resembles a more ESPN GameDay feel to it.
I was half expecting Lee Corso to walk out and put on either a giant Trump or Biden mascot head. As a result, our ears have been trained to tune out opposing rhetoric.
Now re-read the final phrase from Jackson’s speech: “Your point of view is not enough.”
Someone close to me, who doesn’t share my same political beliefs but for whom I have absolute respect, recently stopped me in my tracks.
Our conversations are typically everything but political. But this time, we were discussing the current culture, social climate and the politicization of every nit-picking point. My friend came to it in their very poised, grounded way.
My friend began by saying my name; a very unique delivery occurs that switches something in my brain and signals that this about to be the part where I employ the old two ears, two eyes, one mouth conversation ratio, and to use it in proportion.
“Daren … we have to be willing to listen to one another.”
I admire those who make an intelligent and well-constructed point in 15 words or less.
I can’t help but be reminded of Hegel’s unique interpretation of the theory of dialectics, and how it applies to the notion of open-sourced and the collective goal of improving. The intended purpose is finding a solution through the thriving engagement of contradiction.
The formula consists of a thesis being presented, then the antithesis, and out of their differences, a common ground solution is formulated; the synthesis. And to really get into the weeds, the synthesis now becomes the new thesis and so on.
This isn’t an isolated formula for fixing our political differences. In practice, when embraced, it can be applied to many of life’s other matters needing a lowering of tension and a raising of resolve. It all hinges on our willingness and the individual intellect to know when to extend it.
Now ask yourself: are you happy in this modern world where before you make friends, find a place to live, work, have a meaningful relationship or navigate social media, you first run filters? The filters are designed to protect your precious cocoon of validating only that which consoles you for never having to face not being absolutely right in absolutely every aspect of everything.
Well, you can find comfort as we visit another excerpt from the Common Ground speech.
But don’t despair. Be as wise as my grandma. Pull the patches and the pieces together, bound by a common thread. When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground we’ll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs and education and hope to our nation. We the people can win.
For good and for bad, I still believe Jackson’s speech is one of the greatest convention speeches because it transcends time.
But are you now going to read and digest his rhetorical appeal differently? Will Democrats afford themselves a false sense of superiority and pat themselves on the back? Will Republicans now diminish them and denounce their intent with an internal monologue of character attacks?
Or do you have the agency to do the hard work and find the higher ground of reaching common ground?
Daren Berringer is a national Democratic Party political strategist and media consultant based in Pennsylvania. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.