Ideas and consequences: the case for interdependence

Over at StreetProphets, PastorDan asks “Who is My Neighbor?” in relation to the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids that have been happening all over the country – including many in California. Latina Lista broke some great coverage of the “privatized detention facilities” (maybe the three scariest words in the American lexicon right now) that families broken up by the raids are being placed in.
PastorDan’s post includes a treatment of how birthright citizenship challenges the authoritarian familial structures favored by conservatives – and why they want that law changed. The whole article, and a lot of the pieces linked from it, are very much worth a read. But where it really gets interesting is this:

This exposes the limits of common good thinking. Traditionalist authoritarians don’t see themselves as having much in common with immigrants (or gays and lesbians, or residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward), because they don’t perceive themselves as playing by the same set of rules. They (the authoritarians) work hard, raise their kids right, and obey the law.

and here…

The limit to the use of the common good ideal as an outreach strategy is precisely where it buts up against racism, tacit or overt , because racism is incapable of accepting The Other as neighbor.

This seems to indicate that the Common Good is not, in fact, a core principle we can rely on to generate the right framework for communicating the anti-racism that is a big part of our worldview. It doesn’t seem to let us make the kinds of arguments we need to make. And this isn’t just about rarefied philosophical smoke blowing and fat chewing: it’s about persuading people to support real policies issues that have real impacts. The consequences couldn’t be more immediate: our ability to make this argument determines whether we’re tossing hard working people into concentration-camp like detention centers, or not.
The argument Dan ends up settling on instead – and this certainly isn’t a bad choice – is the Drum Major Institute’s Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the American Middle Class: 2007 Edition. DMI has been doing some of the best policy and communications research around immigration (and progressive economics in general), but this still doesn’t really leave the question of core principles answered.
So the common good is letting us down in this case. What about interdependence?
Since PD brought this up in the context of persuading evangelicals, there’s a great example of how to talk about this in the bible. But framing around interdependence could work just as well for atheists and those of other faiths. MLK’s line about being “woven together in a single garment of destiny” seems to work powerfully for practically everyone. Jesus didn’t say “take care of the poor unless it’s inconvenient,” or “take care of the poor because it’s better for you.” Instead, he said things like this:

“Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:23-28

This explains the draw that progressives feel in the immigration debate, this deep pull towards social justice. People who come to this country are as deserving of opportunity as people who are born here – and that, for progressives, is a much bigger deal than which side of some line they’re on. What could be more un-American than creating a caste system or a permanent underclass? It’s profoundly contrary to the ideals this country was founded on. This country was not founded on a defense of a moral order, as conservatives often suggest. The story of the American revolution is instead that it was a deliberate, massive challenge to the prevailing moral order of the time.
The revolution was not against taxation, but against taxation without representation: a form of near-slavery that the American colonists felt was contrary to life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness. The parallels with creating a class of people who live and work in our country but can’t vote are unfortunate and obvious.
This issue is one that progressives can talk about. Even now, with almost zero national communications leadership on immigration (outside of, perhaps, Senator Obama’s line about not blaming immigrants and gays), large percentages of Americans and large percentages of Californians support a path to citizenship. That may not go far enough, and “comprehensive” immigration reform policies that have been crafted so far still contain far too much authoritarian blather about and costly spending on enforcement, but it’s certainly a starting point we can build off of. This issue is a potential winner for progressives even before they’ve started to make the case.
Another thing to keep in mind about all this is that it’s not a simple process. It’s not as easy as “we make this argument and people start suddenly embracing diversity and voting Democratic.” We have an entire worldview to generate and make the case for, and that takes time – especially when we have to shout over or whisper under the din of hypercapitalism. Lakoff’s description of the necessity of repetition of our frames absolutely applies. We don’t have to necessarily use the word interdependence all the time, but we do have to tell the story, again and again in as many ways as possible. A great communications research project called US in the World is an example of the kind of thing we need more of. (and it’s a project of the Global Interdependence Initiative)
What we choose as our core principles matters. Some choices will let us tell the stories we need to tell and make the arguments we need to make more powerfully than others. This has to be one axis we evaluate our ideas on. If progressives can get where they want to go with the common good, great, but if not, maybe we need to give realizing interdependence a chance.