This conflict is one thing I’ve been waiting for. I’m well and strong and young – young enough to go to the front. If I can’t be a soldier, I’ll help soldiers.
— Clara Barton
Last week I went to an evening discussion about race. That was how it was billed, at least. But in reality we all soon recognized that this discussion would be about racism. I am glad I went and was heartened to see hundreds of people there. The legitimate goal of the sessIon was don’t just do something, think. Get familiar with your thoughts. Consider the thoughts of others. One question we discussed in our small group prompted me to wonder how I might be more effective addressing issues of racism.
When a local luxury retailer recently denied service to a sports celebrity, they created an incident. When they denied that race was a factor in their behavior, they elevated it to a racial incident. I confess, that like Clara Barton during the Civil War, I recognized the incidents as one for which I had been waiting. Though I knew I needed to be out of town the day after the incident, I drove past the store at 5:30 AM to see the local media trucks already waiting. When I returned eight hours later, I saw three Black young people with an information table and a protest sign. I turned the corner, found a parking space, and walked to join their protest. I also called two friends to join me. We ended up coordinating our schedules into shifts so that the young folks would not be unsupported.
Unlike Barton, I can be a soldier in this fight, but I also knew it was time to support and follow the lead of the youth who had done their work. A few other neighbors walked up to ask questions and express support. Fewer, but memorable, were those who chose to voice hatred and the bizarre belief that this store was somehow being victimized by three achingly polite and thoughtful young adults. Two people walked up to me directly to express their disdain for my supportive role. Their faces contorted in anger bother me still. One aimed her car menacingly at us.
As I think about the current presidential campaign and the ascendency of yet another media celebrity as a potential nominee, I am wondering for what precisely we are waiting. Is this not the conflict for which we have been getting ready since civics classes in middle school? If for any reason we feel we cannot be soldiers in this conflict — a feeling that really should be examined and perhaps overridden — can we not at least help its soldiers? By support, I do not mean sending small electronic donations at the end of a monthly funding cycle to opposing candidates. I mean finding out who is doing what to make a difference and calling them to offer support. Watch their kids. Cook their meals. Answer their phones and do whatever else is needed.
How badly does our democracy need to be eroded before we stop waiting?
If the current candidates are not scary enough, let’s consider other worthy conflicts for our involvement.
- Homeless people.
- Jobless people.
- The theft of public schools for which you and your parents paid.
- The reduction of free or affordable educational and recreational activities for families so a zillion dollar gift can be made to zillionaire sports team owners who would not live in our city if they were paid to do so.
- The purchase of our state assembly, senate, and governor by members of the 1/10 of 1%.
- Hungry people.
- Traffic safety.
- Gun violence.
- Privitization of nearly everything.
- Global climate change.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
— Barack Obama