Saturday, June 08, 2013

Democratic rights and wrongs: marjiuana legalization, abortion, segregation---gradualism as opposed to fiat

Because although revolutionary change can be necessary, when it comes to shifting social values, democracy is often served better through gradual change.  Marijuana legislation in Washington State is a great example. Here, it piggy backs on a very long period of increasing acceptance of marijuana use, by people in all parts of society. It went gradually from being tolerated, to being legalized for medical use, to being fully legalized. Medical use was a great test in that it demonstrated that, despite the potential out there for misuse of the privileges, making it at least semi-legal for some people wouldn't bring down the fabric of society, so to speak. With marijuana partially legalized for certain purposes, riots of crazed pot smokers out of "Reefer Madness" did not run rampant through the streets. Part of the reason why it worked, and is currently working, is that a culture of responsible use was created over time, and people learned how to have this be part of life without destroying things.

Abortion, sadly enough, did not go that way. The current impasse about abortion, the whole fact that abortion is an issue right now at all, demonstrates what happens when you go over people's heads and make a court ruling on a controversial subject that a heck of a lot of people are completely opposed to. It's legal....but in a lot of places that doesn't matter. Although this may be seen as a terrible, terrible, thing, quite honestly you don't get into a situation where there's one abortion clinic left in Mississippi and the governor openly talks about putting laws in place to shut it down without most of the state, including women, approving of it. The idea that Mississippi is home to a large population of radical feminists who are being oppressed into not saying anything about this move doesn't ring true. Instead, it speaks more about Northern and other notions about what people are like being projected onto the state.

What if abortion had been legalized in the way that marijuana is now being legalized, or that gay marriage is being legalized, state by state instead of across the country by fiat? It would still take time for it to come around, but the results would pile relation to the action of activists on the ground level working to change people's attitudes. That way, when the legalizations happened, they would tend to stick, and not be as contentious as the issue is now. The choice with choice, so to speak, isn't a bi-polar world between complete access to abortions and complete non-access, and, quite frankly, if so many people are opposed to it why shouldn't they get their way?

Before jumping on me for this, think this over: if abortion was not only effectively illegal in Mississippi but actually illegal, based on State and not Federal law, it would still be possible for that to be changed if people worked really hard to actually change the opinions of the citizens of the state from the bottom up. And why would that be a bad thing?

Some would say that the ending of segregation is an argument to the contrary, but I'd disagree. Looking at the history of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as writings about it by folks like Howard Zinn, segregation wasn't overturned at once by legislative fiat, but at the end of a very long process of ground level activism that changed the opinions of people in South enough for that legislation to take place without enduring resistance. George Wallace might have stood in front of a schoolhouse door, and the national guard may have had to be called in, but, as abortion itself has shown, if the people of the South truly did not want integration to happen at all, they would still be doing things to impede it. At present the only things related to that we hear about is the rare place in a rural area that still has two separate Proms. It could be much, much worse than that.

Another thing is that, despite the claims by some people in the South themselves, segregation wasn't ended primarily by Northern activists coming down and helping out. They were invited and worked in tandem with organizations that already existed on the ground level. Democracy, ground up democracy, worked in this case, and the actions of the Federal Government ratified and pushed forward what was already going on, as opposed to making something out of nothing.

Some folks would look at the hostile climate to abortion in places like Mississippi and North Dakota as the end of the world, other folks would look at it as another job to tackle. In any case, the difference between the relative ease that marijuana has been legalized in some places and the opposition to abortion in others illustrates the importance of actually consulting the people who you're making your laws for instead of just approving them based on an abstract legal concept that you've suddenly found, and feel has universal applicability.

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