Coates on "Division"
In his most recent column for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates criticizes the tendency of media and the general public to deride protest and progressive ideas as "divisive." That tendency is particularly cynical when critics compare the divisive strategies of protestors to the more "unifying" strategies of past movements – particularly the Civil Rights movement of the SNCC, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and their allies.
Coates argues (perhaps argue isn't even the right word – maybe "illustrates the settled fact") that Civil Rights protesters in general and Martin Luther King in particular were wildly unpopular in their time.
As The Washington Post noted last year, only 22 percent of all Americans approved of the Freedom Rides, and only 28 percent approved of the sit-ins. The vast majority of Americans—60 percent—had “unfavorable” feelings about the March on Washington. As FiveThirtyEight notes, in 1966, 63 percent of Americans had a negative opinion of Martin Luther King.
Only after his fifteen years of activism, years of harassment by the FBI, assassination, and subsequent white-washing and lionization in fifth grade history textbooks did King become the paragon of "proper" protest.
Coates illustrates the hypocrisy of this sort of criticism but the idea could be further broadened to include a criticism of the progressive movement more broadly. In the last two years, the progressive left has come to a sort of maturity and begun advancing its causes in the Democratic Party and the country at large. They couch their positions, however, in an assumption of an unrepresented but ascendant and overwhelming majority. They assume popular support for policies by virtue of their merit. This is a mistake not only of strategy but also in that it doesn't prepare its proponents for the likelihood (or inevitability) of resistance.
What happens when a movement for, say, single payer health care built on the assumption of massive popular support runs into even a fraction of the virulent bigotry, ahistorical criticism, and widespread popular skepticism that met Colin Kaepernick? Let alone John Lewis or Angela Davis.