"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you…..then you win."
May I say how much I hate this phrase? I don't have too much of an issue with the way that it can lend comfort to the struggling when they are in the earlier stages of being ignored, laughed at, or fought.
The problem is that it is far, far too often chanted like a magical formula to reassure people that if one's cause is being ridiculed or fought against, it will prevail. First, simply because something is being challenged doesn't make it just, or right, or even possible. This phrase can be used to comfort those struggling against something like racism - but it can also comfort those who are anti-choice or committed to the overthrow of legitimate governments just as easily.
Second, because it's not a magical formula, and there are no guarantees. Being ridiculed or fought does suggest that one's cause is getting under the skin of one's opponents, but that's it. It is perfectly possible - as the history of the world shows - to be ignored, then made fun of, then repressed... and lose. Being fought is not a step in a mythic journey in which the hero, being the hero, must inevitably triumph. Even if the cause does prevail, it may be after several cycles of this - just witness the struggle women have had to achieve equality. We are still ignored, still laughed at, still fought... are we winning? We're better off than 200 years ago, but by how much, really?
And what does winning look like? What does one do after winning? How does one prevent success from being overturned? This aphorism offers no advice.
At this point, what had been a vital rallying cry is now little more than a hopeful, clichéd incantation that fits on a wordy bumper sticker. Our causes deserve better than that - they deserve, along with our effort, a vital language that reflects the concerns and challenges of the moment, not hoary chestnuts of phrases that lull us into complacency.