It’s one thing to curse the darkness. It’s another thing to light a candle.
This maxim – my rough paraphrase of a quote I have seen attributed to the founder of Amnesty International – has been echoing in my mind in recent days as I hear and talk to many people about the approaching ascension of the Trump Administration.
I know well that there is a tense anxiety eating away at many of my fellow citizens. I have read it in the comments and messages to this page. I have heard it from many of you in person, when we meet on the street, in airports, or even men’s rooms. There is a deep dismay bordering on defeatism. The end of the Republic. We are doomed. There is no reason to hope for a better future.
It would be foolish and disingenuous to downplay the challenges we face but every ounce of my experiences convinces me that we, as a people, have more grit than this. Yes the hurdles may be high, but it is time for a bit of a “reality check” as some of my younger colleagues are wont to say.
I witnessed the strategic huddles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders in the early days of the movement when their country seemed to be ignoring their plight. And they only grew more determined. I walked the dangerous patrols with young GIs in the jungle hell that was Vietnam who wondered whether America would learn about the injustices of that war, and they remained determined. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with so-called common folk as they filled sandbags to hold off a rising Mississippi River. I have walked through neighborhoods leveled by tornadoes, or hurricanes, or even riots with storekeepers vowing to rebuild. I have seen young men and women forsake wealth and an easier life to dedicate themselves to the noble profession of teaching. In these examples, and countless more, I see the America I know, the America I love, the America I expect to continue. But that destiny is in our hands.
Democracy is much more than just the right to vote. It is the duty to participate. I fear that too many who are now so fearful of the future were lulled in the past by the malignancy of passivity. President Obama was in the White House, they told themselves. The demographics of our country are our destiny. At the same time, do not discount the power of the numbers as reflected in the popular vote in the last election.
You can’t forsake your voice and then complain about not being heard. And I sense, with a growing activism around such things as the Affordable Care Act, we are seeing the stirrings of a new leadership. I have heard from some of you about how you have attended political rallies and been disappointed by some of the party heads who claim to speak in your name. How they are out of touch and uninspiring. So if you don’t like them, tell them so. Advocate for others to take their place or run against them yourself. Run for offices big and small. We need more engineers and teachers and nurses and scientists in our public offices. Why? Why not?
You may not like the politics of the Tea Party, but you can’t deny their effectiveness. They didn’t like their leadership, so they ran against them. That is how democracy is supposed to work.
I come back to the message with which I started – that of lighting a candle to ward off the darkness. It is important to note that this need not be a raging fire. Even a candle is a start. If you are eager to make a change, starting with a checklist of the possible is a good beginning. And then we can all work from there, together, shining more light along our march to a more just and equitable world.