“Darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On January 20, 2009 I was visiting my parents, and I vividly recall standing in their living room watching TV, tears streaming down my face as Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. I was proud to be an American in a way that I had never been proud before. In my mind we had, as a country, moved past the dark cloud of racism and finally embraced a man based upon the content of his character without regard for the color of his skin.
Over the next eight years I saw an amazingly Progressive agenda help subset after subset of Americans gain equality in ways that they never had before. Marriage equality, equal pay for women, affordable health care for all … the Obama administration came in with an aggressive agenda, and strove to bring people together in their efforts to level the playing field for all Americans.
It’s amazing how far we have fallen in the four years that have passed since Obama’s second term ended.
There is plenty for Americans to be upset about, and especially people of color. The current administration has essentially declared war on immigration and created an atmosphere of hate and anger around racial minorities in this country. White police officers can’t seem to stop killing unarmed black men; we see a black man gunned down for simply going for a jog; we see George Floyd pulled from his SUV and ultimately pinned to the ground and choked to death by a white police officer in Minnesota…and it goes on and on.
So what is the proper response to these intolerable acts? Over the last week we’ve seen protests, riots and looting across the United States as frustrated citizens literally take to the streets to express their anger and frustration. I’ve also seen virtual prayer vigils and more peaceful measures making the rounds on social media. Actions such as these may make people feel better, but neither will bring about real change.
Bringing about real change is not about demonstrating, though I am 100% in favor of those who choose that action. It’s also not about prayer, though I am also in full support of those who choose that route. My personal feeling is that looting and rioting goes too far, prayer doesn’t go far enough, and peaceful demonstrations are essentially meaningless to address the root of the problem America is facing.
The most meaningful thing people can do, by far, is VOTE. There are 382 million people in the US, give or take, and only 136.7 million bothered to vote in the 2016 presidential election. Even fewer people vote in state and local elections, which is odd since those votes count more and are more relevant to our daily lives. Hillary Clinton won the most votes for President in 2016 (65.9 million) with Donald Trump garnering 62.9 million, though the latter won due to the intervention of the electoral college. So roughly 36% of the US population determined the highest level of leadership for the country.
That’s a problem.
The President determines economic policy, and while Hillary Clinton was no friend to poor people, she was a far cry from the corporate pawn that Trump has turned out to be. Better yet, if Democrats and Independents had cared more and gotten out in bigger numbers during the primaries we might have had Bernie Sanders as a choice on election day. There is no greater friend to the poor and enemy of the Wall Street-sponsored status quo than Senator Sanders (I-VT).
Voting is important, and continuing to pressure our elected leaders to live up to the promises they’ve made is important. But that’s just the first step.
We must also understand the reasons behind social inequalities which lead to the violence we see in the news every day. To put it simply, poor people are generally screwed in the modern American economy, and that situation seems to get worse with each passing day. Any slight disruption in daily life, not to mention the major disruption of a pandemic, always hurts the poor more than anyone else. The poor live paycheck to paycheck, those paychecks barely cover basic living expenses (or utterly fail to), the poor are underrepresented in the national political conversation. Rather than try to reach them, many of our leaders are working really hard to marginalize their influence and prevent them from voting.
All of these socioeconomic factors contribute to the anger and hate that has boiled over in the wake of even more racially biased “justice.” As Trevor Noah said in a recent edition of The Daily Show, when a black man kills a white man you can bet people are going to lose their minds and he’s absolutely going to jail. When a white cop kills an innocent black man, he may or may not even lose his job.
This has to stop, and if we don’t stop it in constructive ways, we will see more and more of these uprisings in protest of an extremely biased system of justice.
So where do we start, Bill?
I’m glad you asked!
As it happens, President Obama is on the front line of this national discussion, offering up not just advice but also actions we can take immediately to work towards a more just America. The Obama Foundation has a website devoted entirely to helping us find ways to take concrete and proactive steps toward a brighter future. You can find that resource HERE!
Times like this are frustrating. Many people feel the need to lash out, to burn something, to destroy something or maybe just take a knee during the National Anthem. Protests are understandable and even necessary in times like this, but if we don’t ALSO take action politically and socially, the protests are simply a curiosity for the media to play up until something else catches their ADHD attention. This can’t be about one or two people of color being chewed up and spit out by a racially biased justice system.
The issues are much bigger than that, and until we address the root issues the protests will continue to fall on deaf ears. Rioting in the streets is fine, I suppose, and peaceful demonstrations are absolutely appropriate. Just remember, the riots that make the biggest difference happen in front of state capital buildings, in Washington DC, and – most importantly – in election booths.
Not sure who your representatives in the House of Representatives are? You can look them up here! Stage a daily riot on their phone lines!
Not sure who your senators are? You can look them up here! Make your peaceful demonstration with technology!
Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020. Let’s stage a RIOT, folks!