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Coalition Building: Foregoing the Idyllic Common Good

This essay was written as part of the 2016 Humanity in Action John Lewis Fellowship at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.

 
If we can come to an agreement in a democratic society, should we assume that the consensus reflects the common good? 

INTRODUCTION

In my paper, I define “democracy/democratic society” and conceptualize “common good.” I work under the framework that the goal, in a just and inclusive society, is a democratic form of governance that promotes the common good. Then, I complicate the relationship between the common good and democratic societies. Ultimately, I argue that an ideological preoccupation with the common good inhibits progress for the impractical sake of dogma. 
 
DEMOCRACY
Purcell defines democracy as a system that “requires that no group be prevented from participating as a true peer in discussion and deliberation” (Purcell, 86). One cannot be a true peer if missing equivalent resources, power, or cultural esteem. Overall, the deliberation should be what the group, as a whole, perceives as the common good. 
 
COMMON GOOD
With regards to the common good, “contemporary ethicist, John Rawls, defined [it] as ".. general conditions that are...equally to everyone's advantage." The common good, then, consists primarily of having the social systems, institutions, and environments on which we all depend work in a manner that benefits all people.” (1)
 

COMMON GOOD: ITS CHALLENGE TO PROGRESS

Common good, as manifested within the deliberation, is only shared by the majority, sometimes a plurality. The common good neutralizes minorities and erases their valuable experiences for an assumed ideal. Thus, I disagree with the notion of the common good as it seems to act as a “legitimation tool” for the plurality to force its agenda upon minorities (Purcell, 81). As a case study, Mike Carnathan stated that metropolitan Atlanta will continue to leave its diverse and youthful population as policy subject to the market. (2) While this may be rationalized as economic development (i.e. common good), it creates severe socioeconomic repercussions for residents who cannot afford a gentrified Atlanta. Shirley Franklin, former Mayor of Atlanta, explicitly said there is a “permanent underclass of people who cannot break out of poverty” suggesting a neutralization of those whose interests do not align despite the assumed common good of 'economic development'. (3) Thus, Atlanta's high rates of income inequality coupled with low upward mobility complicates the narrative of the 'common good'.
Furthermore, the common good oversimplifies reality. In other words, there cannot be a simplistic or uniform answer to every situation; much less one that results in everyone's advantage. As we cannot agree upon abstract, philosophical conversations during discussion, we will predictably be unable to as we enter personal and emotional terrain. Dr. Black encouraged us not to 'restructure the self for someone else's comfort'. (4) Moreover, should I silence my differences for your comfort, so that we may attain a common good that does not benefit me? 
 
As an example of the impracticality of 'the common good', Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X serve as a valuable warning. Malcolm noted that he could not align with King's nonviolence movement due to his personal struggles. (5) Corretta King later said of the strained relationship: "I think that if Malcolm had lived, at some point the two would have come closer together and would have been a very strong force." (6) This is also reminiscent of the tension between the nonviolent movement and the Black Panthers, who fought for similar goals but also failed to form an alliance. 
 
Furthermore, Dr. James Thomas’ summary of crowd behavior (characterized by anonymity, contagion, and suggestibility) suggests that the common good (“deliberation of a democracy”) may not be rational. (7) According to Dr. Thomas, crowds obstruct our higher ideals of sensibiliy further complicating the notion of the common good. In terms of practicality, the common good it is difficult to achieve consensus and unity, especially in a heterogeneous group which can be counterproductive to progress. 
 
Summarily, I argue that a deliberation by the majority (“common good”) should not result in unchallenged acceptance, especially when it deteriorates minorities. However, that is not to say that we must never come to an agreement. I believe that our 'deliberations' should be further scrutinized to produce outcomes that manifest in progress, while still accounting for minority interests. 

CONCLUSION 

On my last visit to the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Gandhi cautioned the visitor, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”- warning the viewer of a preoccupation with differences as represented by the clenched fist. In turn, such conflict, which is not to invalidate its emotion, shatters hopes of progress (or coalition-building), as represented by the inability to shake hands. Thus, a simplistic concern with the common good, which should nonetheless be challenged, prevents progress. 
 
As we have seen in the Civil Rights Movement, ideological differences prevented what could have been a ground breaking alliance between Malcolm X and Dr. King. Their unproductive focus upon their differences serves as a reminder that as we enter an increasingly interconnected era communication across continents is as simple as a tweet. However, a myriad of challenges accompanies increased communication and will pose a challenge to coalition building if we cannot forgo our differences and focus upon progress. To create meaningful change as a collective, we must dismiss the impractical ideal of a complete consensus (in other words, the common good).
 
Before I came to Atlanta, I struggled to conceptualize a way to build Latinx coalitions across communities. I simplistically believed that there could be a central agenda on which all could rally behind. The Fellowship showed me that such an agreement is not necessary to work together. In fact, a uniform agenda is impossible. It also reminded me of the strength that is required to set aside personal beliefs in order to progress amidst conflict. However, it is as important to challenge ideas as it is to give and provide space for the needs of other social groups. The issues that vex social groups across the United States are as diverse as its demographics. When I return home, I will continue to build and empower my community while making a conscious effort to enter new and at times uncomfortable spaces to advance coalition building.

References

1. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. "The Common Good." - Ethical Decision Making. Santa Clara University, 2 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 July 2016. 

2. Carnathan, Mike. "“Gazing into the Crystal Ball of Atlanta: Race and Class in Urban Cities”." Humanity in Action (John Lewis Fellowship). CARE, Atlanta, Georgia. 27 July 2016. Lecture. 

3. Franklin, Shirley. "Discussion on Leadership and the Building of a Center." Humanity in Action (John Lewis Fellowship). CARE, Atlanta, Georgia. 21 July 2016. Lecture. 

4. Black, Daniel. "The Coming." Humanity in Action (John Lewis Fellowship). Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia. 7 July 2016. Lecture.

5. The King Center. "Coretta Scott King Meets with Malcolm X in Selma, Alabama." Coretta Scott King Meets with Malcolm X in Selma, Alabama. The King Center, n.d. Web. 27 July 2016. 

6. Blake, John. "Malcolm and Martin, Closer than We Ever Thought." CNN. Cable News Network, 19 May 2010. Web. 26 July 2016. 

7. Thomas, Dr. James. "Lynching and the Psychology of Racism in America." Humanity in Action (JohnLewis Fellowship). Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia. 8 July 2016. 

Works Cited

Black, Daniel. "The Coming." Humanity in Action (John Lewis Fellowship). Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia. 7 July 2016. Lecture. 

Blake, John. "Malcolm and Martin, Closer than We Ever Thought." CNN. Cable News Network, 19 May 2010. Web. 26 July 2016. 

Carnathan, Mike. "“Gazing into the Crystal Ball of Atlanta: Race and Class in Urban Cities”."  Humanity in Action (John Lewis Fellowship). CARE, Atlanta, Georgia. 27 July 2016. Lecture. 

Franklin, Shirley. "Discussion on Leadership and the Building of a Center." Humanity in Action (JohnLewis Fellowship). CARE, Atlanta, Georgia. 21 July 2016. Lecture. 

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. "The Common Good." - Ethical Decision Making. Santa Clara University, 2 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 July 2016. 

The King Center. "Coretta Scott King Meets with Malcolm X in Selma, Alabama." Coretta Scott King Meets with Malcolm X in Selma, Alabama. The King Center, n.d. Web. 27 July 2016. 

Thomas, Dr. James. "Lynching and the Psychology of Racism in America." Humanity in Action (John Lewis Fellowship). Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia. 8 July 2016. 

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