D’Innocenzo: Country in Need of a New ‘Common Sense’


This is the fourth part of our new series by esteemed historian, professor, and activist Michael D’Innocenzo. Inspired by our enormously successful summit on immigration on Feb. 26, of which he was co-director, the articles are based on a series that originally appeared in The Island Now. You can read the whole series here.

“Common Sense” in 1776 was no accidental title when Tom Paine, an immigrant, wrote the best-selling pamphlet of early American history.

Paine emulated a courtroom advocate when he marshaled evidence to convince people that the time had come for Independence. Not as often remembered is that Paine, the immigrant, stood with Franklin and Jefferson among our three key advocates for an ever-expanding democracy.

These are the times that are also ripe for “common sense” appeals for resolutions of our nation’s immigration challenges.

We have a regional start with Long Island Wins’ summit on immigration, sponsored by the Hofstra University Center for Civic Engagement and Long Island Wins. It drew 400 participants who attended seven breakout sessions to develop action steps for common sense developments.

More surprising than this local, extraordinary effort is the cover story in one of the world’s leading weekly magazines, The Economist (which, indeed, can be considered analogous to Paine as a “common sense” call for American Immigration). Its cover (March 14-20) read: “Firing up America: A Special Report on America’s Latinos.”

Long considered a “conservative” publication, The Economist covers cutting-edge world events in more depth and scope than any other weekly (at more than 100 pages per issue).

These in-depth 16 pages on Latinos can be part of an emerging “tipping point,” moving our nation (and enough leaders from both political parties) to take pragmatic, realistic steps to foster the positives of all the immigrants who are now here (legal and “unauthorized”).

Citing William Frey’s new book, “Diversity Explosion,” the editors of The Economist agree that there is much to celebrate in “America’s new demographics.” Numbers count in a democracy and the current 57 million Latinos will continue to grow and have significant impact throughout our society.

This magazine says, “Hispanic-America’s rise is a tremendous opportunity,” that American’s should welcome, not fear, “a multi-based future;” that there is cause to “have faith in the melting-pot.”

I am so impressed with this magazine feature, because, like Tom Paine’s 1776 writing, it assembles so much irrefutable data that it points reasonable people toward pragmatic actions, developments that The Economist continues to emphasize should not be squandered.

Indicated in these detailed analyses of population, economics, politics, religion and culture, is that the arc of history is bending toward inclusion and change. There is empathy for Americans who are resisting changes for a variety of reasons. Many of them are decent people who are failing to recognize the dynamics of change and the need for flexibility in adjusting to realities so that positives will prevail for all.

I see in The Economist an analogy to Paine’s depiction of the “Loyalists” to England. They were soon called “damned Tories” by the leaders of the American Revolution.

They sought to hold on to outmoded structures and kept emphasizing that colonial protests violated existing laws. Many of them were indeed decent people who had contributed to society, but they failed to appreciate the view of Greek philosopher Heraclitus who wrote a few thousand years ago, “change is the only constant in life.”

Here on Long Island, and throughout our nation, we all have an opportunity to shape those changes so they foster an inclusive, just and humane society that keep faith with our nation’s highest principles. We can cross political divides (and age barriers, a key theme in The Economist) to find common ground for the public good and for individual opportunities.

A key step is to recognize the perspectives given by Martin Luther King, Jr. who was a frequent visitor to Long Island with his close friend and advisor, the late Harry H. Wachtel, who had lived in Great Neck and Roslyn.

The Wachtel Archives at Hofstra University show Dr. Martin Luther King’s model for inclusion.

Harry H. Wachtel (with his wife Lucy, the only two white folks in King’s Nobel Prize group) explained that Dr. King insisted on traveling to Stockholm after he received his 1964 award in Oslo. He had long admired Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma, and wanted to meet the Swedish scholar in person.

The perspectives that King shared with Myrdal are still relevant today. Like Myrdal, King knew there was discrimination in the U.S. It began with prejudice, usually initiated by visual perception of “the other” (Myrdal in 1943 pointed out that sexism resembled racism in terms of seeing “others”).

How to move people beyond visual “pre-judging” was the task.

Myrdal emphasized, and King modeled, that the U.S. had the noblest, most explicit commitments to democracy, inclusion, and human rights than any nation in the history of the world. The key was to get more Americans to recognize (as Myrdal stated) that everyone had a right to expect more of them; that they could close the gaps between what they said and what they did, between principles and practices (hence Dr. King’s continuing “Dream” metaphor of inclusion).

Dr. King made another key point, still essential today, when he said:

“I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

Empathy and community can only emerge when people connect with each other. Please keep checking the web site of Long Island Wins for its ongoing collaborative efforts with Hofstra’s Center for Civic Engagement (lots of those folks are available to speak with community groups, when invited).

In the meantime, if you have a chance, read the cover story in The Economist. Consider its major conclusion:

“The rise of Latinos is a huge opportunity.
The United States must not squander it.”

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