As so many have said, we are now living in a dark time for democracy. The forces of hatred, greed, and racial ultra-superiority have always been with us, usually operating in the undertones of our cultural discourse. And now, with rage unleashed by the very people who should be leading us toward collaboration, and with the ease of the internet and social media for spreading vitriol, those toxic forces have risen to openly attack the promise of the patriots that every person shall have the equal right to pursue happiness, and they seem to be utterly dominant in the current landscape.
Their target is the very bedrock of democracy, the vote. The Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965, has already been diluted, and is now in danger of being obliterated in practice. The truth is that the democratic experiment initiated by the founders was always incomplete and subject to economic ambition and power; even so, our history has been that in our unique democratic system, voters could nudge us toward a more perfect union at the voting booth.
And now, we must remember what Nelson Mandela told us: Things always seem impossible until they are done. The history of the civil rights movement is one of some inching toward progress, reactionary setback, and then the determined continuation of effort. Thurgood Marshall kept arguing his point when SCOTUS declared for equal education in 1954 and many of the nation’s school systems resisted implementing the act; he finally prevailed, and, while not complete, the education of all children is improved. MLK, Jr.’s followers kept battling. We did get finally a voting rights act, even though it is still under attack.
So in our own time of despair, as crucial elections loom in front of us, it is enormously important for all who cherish democracy to take a lesson from the Civil Rights leaders of just a few years ago. We cannot give up, just because it looks so hopeless. Whatever the unlikely chances of success, whatever the odds, whatever crushing feelings of helplessness and despair we suffer at every day’s morning newspaper, we must continue the fight.
Philosophers tell us that the world we see is finally shaped by our own perceptions; that is, hope resides within each of us, not in the media, polls, statistics about voting preferences, or the opinions of those around us who would have us just stop complaining and accept things as they so obviously seem to be.
Each of us now needs to understand that the first steps toward justice are our own inner belief that it must come. We need to make sure that we continue to believe that justice can prevail, that right will ultimately triumph, and that each of our small efforts are all part of a “mighty stream” toward justice as MLK, Jr., told us.
Believe in the lessons that the oppressed and disenfranchised have shown us through history. Don’t let the setbacks discourage you. Keep your hope up, write and call legislators, talk to any one you can about the vast importance of this effort. Give them inspiration against the odds, vote. March, rally. Keep going. Vote. Fight. Vote. Fight. Vote.
By Lou Levin, President, and the members of the branch Executive Committee