June 19th, 2020
Please read #383 “I Have Failed…” and #386 “Black Lives Certainly Matter…” prior to reading this.
In the previous post [#386], I referenced my time in Chicago. It reminded me of a lesson I learned in a totally unrelated context, but one which is very relevant at this time in US history.
First the context: During the 13 years I lived in Chicago, I had a number of executive roles. Because of the peculiar nature of the governance and funding systems, one might understand those roles as a series of concentric circles. The details don’t matter for this piece but suffice it to say that one of those roles was CEO of a local system with a primary funding entity, and others were regional, national, and international.
The funding agency was [and I assume still is] considered one of the major influential ones in the country. No national initiative would ever be adopted without their endorsement. Because of my roles outside of Chicago, I was frequently involved in those national initiatives, and I was often called upon to run it up the flagpole in Chicago.
The CEO of the Chicago entity didn’t suffer fools gladly and had little patience for ideas that were a waste of his time and communal money. [For some reason, he never considered me one of the fools, so he was willing to suffer me even when we didn’t agree. Go figure.] The path to communal endorsement and funding always went directly through his corner office.
As I recall, there was not a single national initiative about which he didn’t have reservations, some major and some less so. Many of his concerns were directly on point and led to modifications. But in every case where it mattered, even when he demurred on details, at the end of the day he would tell me that they would be supportive: “we have to be on the right side of history” he would say.
This is such a moment in America. The choices we must make every day – up until and after the November election are not simply for the soul of America, but for its very legitimacy. There is a person in the seat of the POTUS who considers himself above the law, considers that the Constitution is, at best, a document to be ignored, endorses racism overtly, and considers that anyone who opposes him to be a traitor. And there are those, particularly in the Senate, who act as if they fully agree.
I suspect that there are very few readers of my articles who disagree with this assessment, but I am not so naïve to think that everyone else does. However, I am most concerned about those who express reservations about their options even if they don’t disagree with my assessment of the POTUS.
• There are those who are disappointed that Biden will be the Democratic nominee since their preferred candidates have not been chosen or their positions seem not as central to his candidacy.
• There are those who say that there are some visible advocates of BLM who have said things they disagree with so they can’t really support the movement.
• There are those who say that “defunding the police” is a step too far and they cannot fully support that movement – in most cases rejecting the slogan more than the substance which they, conveniently, never examine.
• There are those whose disillusionment about the possibility of change is so great that they view all politics as more of the same no matter who is running or who is in power.
Yes, there are all sorts of excuses why one might be a cynic or a skeptic, most of which are quite legitimate. Some of these folks plan to sit it out. To every one of them I say, whatever reservations you may have, if you allow that to get you to sit this election season out, you are on the wrong side of history.
I have another concern as well: right now, there is a lot of very healthy energy, real policy discussions, and the emergence of functioning coalitions. The convergence of COVID-19 and the long overdue attention to the impact of endemic racism in America has fostered this. However, November is still 5 months away and it is very hard to sustain popular political activism for that long a time. I worry that there will be burnout; there will be political disappointments; there will be foreign interference via social media; there will be attempts to turn emerging allies into competitors. There might be rain – or crowds. But we must resist every one of these excuses.
At a minimum, vote. A few contributions to key competitive elections and activist organizations wouldn’t hurt. Canvassing [whatever that might look like this year] would certainly help. Volunteering on the local, county, and state level would make a big difference. Convincing your reticent friends, family, neighbors, colleagues to vote will go a long way.
It is not an overstatement that this year’s elections are the most important in any of our lifetimes. Nothing less than the continued legitimacy of the United States as a viable Constitutional Democracy is at stake.
We must keep up the momentum. We must remember that the perfect is the enemy of the good. We must remember that our votes and our involvement matter. History will judge the American experiment by how we respond this November, and every day before and after. This is the right time to be on the right side of history.