S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.” – Ram Dass
As we stand at the precipice of one of, if not the, most important election of our lifetime with the recognition each of us, in our own way, has done all we can to help ensure a decisive outcome, it is important we are prepared to persevere in our quest for change, whatever the results of the election.
In 1967 the soon to be slain Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked a prescient question: “Where do we go from here, chaos or community?”
This year, members of the Black community may consider a slightly different twist on this query: “Where do we go from here if the outcome of the election falls short of our expectations, despair or perseverance?”
I would offer perseverance.
Regardless of who claims the White House in the coming weeks, our work as a community—not only of Blacks, but of all Americans who, not only hope for a better tomorrow, but are engaged and working to create the American we deserve — must commit and stay actively engaged because the 2020 election is just the beginning.
After all, we know without a doubt, whether Trump succeeds or fails to remain president, the noise, the vitriol and the hatred he has unleashed across the country will continue.
In the face of this reality, we as citizens must choose.
Will we be sucked into the muck and mire of his tyrannical efforts to further divide the country into opposing camps of Black versus White; rich versus poor; essential workers versus those who are not; those more likely to die from COVID-19 versus those only minimally impacted by the virus? Or, will we continue to press our priorities, think and act proactively, purposefully and creatively in ways that continue to elevate important issues and drive elected officials to implement the warranted systemic changes desired, regardless of the roadblocks placed in our way?
The same choice will hold true provided Joe Biden is elected. We will be called upon to do what too many failed to do after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 — that is, to stay engaged in the political process, to continue pressing an agenda that truly serves the people at the local, state and federal levels.
The journey to ensure equity for the nation’s downtrodden, underserved, oppressed and abused; the quest for criminal justice reform, economic parity, fair housing, quality education, healthcare and other causes of significance and deemed essential for a brighter tomorrow — especially for people of color—does not end with an election, no matter who sits in the White House. It must be viewed as just the next step in the long and arduous struggle for equity waged by Blacks, other people of color and the working poor regardless of race, since long before the founding of this nation.
It must be embraced as our legacy, as a debt we owe our ancestors who paid forward for this time in history, as a promise we make to our children and grandchildren. It must be considered part of a continuum of efforts both essential and revolutionary.
Obama made a similar argument for political activism in his Nov. 2009 address to Congress in the critical days of pushing through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As reported at the time by the Huffington Post, Obama took a page from the playbook of FDR.
According to the story, FDR once met with a group of protesters who were pushing for bold, legislative change. He listened to their arguments, acknowledged he was convinced by their position, and then left them with these political words of wisdom:
“Now go out, and make me do it.”
FDR believed the more successful people were at creating a sense of urgency and crisis, the easier it would be to push for progressive legislation. He was right — he successfully advocated for and signed the New Deal.
In early Nov. 2009, Obama was garnering support in a final push for the Senate to pass the ACA. It had passed the House of Representatives days earlier, but the Senate version remained unsettled. Ultimately, the ACA passed and, though it fell short in some areas, it was an historic, bold step toward ensuring healthcare as a right, not a privilege and it expanded healthcare to millions of Americans.
The night Obama addressed Congress, he reached back in history for the tools embraced by FDR that helped make the New Deal a reality. At the time, though Democrats controlled the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, reforming healthcare was still a herculean effort. This was partly because the Democratic Party’s big tent was filled with conservatives — many from Midwest and Southern states — who were less than enthusiastic about supporting such a bold, groundbreaking initiative.
In addition, Republicans, bruised by the outcome of the 2008 election, were supported in their opposition by insurance companies and other big healthcare-related industries who poured big lobbying dollars to halt the legislation and undergirded the activism of the contrived Tea Party. Also, Republican leadership had already vowed to block any and every legislative effort then president Obama attempted.
Despite the obstacles, Obama recognized vocal support from Americans across the country could move reluctant members of Congress — as it had for FDR. He gambled that the voice of the people could drown out the noise of lobbyists and the Tea Party to propel ACA to legislative success. It did.
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law March 23, 2010 and by the Nov. 2010 election it appeared Obama supporters felt their work was done. Many abandoned the movement that elected the first Black president and brought healthcare to millions. When the American people grew complacent, the “Yes we can” momentum flailed.
In 2010 there was a Republican backlash against the Affordable Care Act and with so many Obama supporters disengaged, Republicans gained control of the House and gained seats in the Senate.
In 2012, Obama was re-elected, however, Republicans maintained control of the House and added more Senate seats.
And, in 2014, Republicans retained control of the House and gained control of the Senate, in essence leaving Obama bereft of legislative power. In essence the more control Republicans gained the more limited Obama was in his ability to implement change, and the more his supporters grew disenchanted and pulled away not recognizing his power rested in their continued participation in the political process.
Then came 2016, and the nation voted just the reverse of 2008. Donald Trump was elected and Republicans retained control of both houses of Congress. The 2018 election subsequently proved to be a mirrored reflection of 2010 only in reverse, the Democrats took control of the House but not the Senate.
Over the years, the Republican Party made no less than 70 unsuccessful attempts to repeal, modify or curtail ACA. What will happen in 2020 is yet to be written.
What was written and demonstrated in this series of election cycles was the old cliché, “history repeats itself;” yet, there is another cliché that reminds us “nothing is written in stone.”
The antics of the Republican party has resulted in a call to action at the polls. In 2020, Americans are voting in unprecedented numbers to reshape the direction of this nation. Yet, it is what happens when the election is over, the votes are tallied, and winners announced, that will provide an equally important call to action.
The focus should include continued activism and engagement at the local, state, and federal levels coupled with continued demands for economic, criminal, health, and social justice reform.
Regardless of who controls the levers of power at the national level, this country belongs to the people and we must work for the change we seek. No more empty promises. No more one-sided compromises. No more settling for less. Blacks, other minorities, and low-income workers, who work as hard, or harder, and pay their share of taxes want real, substantive change.
When Black people say “unjust,” the establishment says, “your fault!”
When Black people suffer and die disproportionately from every ailment known to man, the establishment says, “your fault!”
When Black people are imprisoned disproportionately, the establishment says, “your fault!”
When Black people find themselves trapped in low-wage, part time jobs, the establishment says, “your fault!”
When they can’t qualify for loans, struggle to cash checks because they are unbanked, live in poor housings and suffer from food insecurity; when the educational system produces poor outcomes, when communities crumble, when Black seniors struggle in poverty; and now, as Black, Brown and Indigenous people die disproportionately from COVID-19, not only is the refrain “your fault” the same, but there is a continued effort to strip people of healthcare in the midst of this devastating pandemic.
It is still too soon to predict with certainty the outcome of the election, but it appears the American people are saying through their ballots, “Enough!”
After the election, regardless of the victor, the movement for change must continue with an intentional and uncompromising sense of urgency. Americans must stay focused in their persistent advocacy for change as if their lives depend on it — because, to a large extent, they do!
We, as a nation, know where we need to go. Let us make it our goal to get there. We know what we are voting for. We know what the candidates have promised. When the election is over it will be time for all of us to follow FDR’s advice — let’s go out and make them deliver!
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.