Our VoiceImmigration

Breaking: the Tyranny of the Majority


Rev. David L. Ostendorf • May 05, 2010

In spite of the stated intent of its founding documents guaranteeing the rights of the minority, the tyranny of the majority—not majority rule—is the prevailing narrative of the American story.

That narrative, of course, continues in the immigration debate. In spite of the political firestorm set off by Arizona’s immigration law, a sixty percent majority of Americans believe that law to be “about right”—or that it “doesn’t go far enough,” according to a New York Times/CBS poll released yesterday. As well, a staggering majority are certain that immigrants take “American jobs” and don’t pay taxes or Social Security. Dominant myths are rock hard and difficult to crack, and facts play little role in the process.

A half century ago, polls found strikingly similar results with regard to civil rights. In spite of gaining the approval of some 55% of Americans in the spring of 1954, five years later a majority believed that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education “caused a lot more trouble than it was worth.” During the 1960s the Gallup Poll found most Americans gradually came to support “racial equality in public places,” but a consistent plurality wanted to take a “go slow” approach to racial change. In the South, not surprisingly, Gallup found that 80% of those polled in 1964 disapproved of civil rights legislation.

Story lines in the prevailing narrative are many. “America is… a Christian nation; …the most generous country in the world; …a nation of immigrants; …a land of equal opportunity; …the land of the free.” In the immigration debate, of course, it is the “legal” story line that dominates the narrative, as in “what part of illegal don’t you understand?” We are, that story line asserts, “a nation of laws” that apply equally, it is said, to everyone. Right…

Congress and the Obama Administration must act on the policy and political disaster that immigration has become. That so-called leaders of both parties are utterly disingenuous in this regard is a given. That enforcement is the baseline of emerging “reform” proposals is insufficient and unacceptable. A pathway to documentation and to citizenship must be forged.

But the tyranny of the majority is seldom broken only with facts, with laws and policies, or with well-intentioned resolutions—walls crack and break with the relentless hammering of the undaunted minority and with moral courage exhibited fearlessly in the face of even the harshest opposition.

With immigration—and with every other ill pressing and igniting the reactionary stance of the majority in this country—the cracks and breaks will appear only as that hammering continues unabated and only as it grows ever-stronger, nurturing conditions for an emergent social movement of peoples of color and their allies who are organizing in communities across the land. The new “minority” narrative is being woven even today, and is unfolding in the streets, in the towns and cities and suburbs and neighborhoods across the country where a nation of many peoples is being birthed. The tyranny of the majority is indeed being broken once again, and none too soon.

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