Friday, March 17, 2006

Being a friend means being a thorn in one's side

This past weekened I watched a documentary on the lives of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. One thing that I got from that documentary was a sense of humility about our own situation. These two women fought a battle for women's rights that stretched over 50 years and still they didn't live long enough to see women get the vote. Now that's the perfect image of the "marathon, not a sprint" point of view.

Another thing I got from the documentary was the sense of true friendship between these women. They loved each other immensely, yet they did not always agree on the finer points of tactics and strategy. Anthony was much more willing to compromise for the sake of building the coalition she thought necessary to achieve universal sufferage. Stanton, on the other hand, was interested in the whole gamut of women's rights and frequently balked at Anthony's devotion to a single issue.

But their disagreements did not lead to a severing of their friendship. Nor did it lead to them ever standing idley by when one or the other came under criticism from both allies and enemies. Despite their disagreements, they defended each other against all attacks, even if they happened to agree with the substance of those attacks.

One of them, I can't remember which, referred to this by saying that a good friend is as often a thorn in one's side as they are a comforter in times of trouble. A friend who is willing to disagree with you is a friend who keeps you honest in your thoughts and deeds.

This is the kind of relationship I would like to see between the activist base and the party leadership. We don't have to agree with each other all the time. We should be willing to offer constructive criticism of each other when we feel it is justified. But we should also be unhesitating in our willingness to defend the other against attack.

To often the leadership runs away from the activist base anytime the latter faces criticism because they don't want to be painted with the same "far-left looney" brush. And to often the activist base is willing to presume the worst motives in the actions of the leadership because they want the leadership to be vigorous advocates for their particular issue.

It's really about time for both sides to realize that they make better allies then enemies.

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