There is a very real battle out there.
It has most recently manifested in the Executive Orders we’ve seen flowing from the White House like thunderbolts from a hateful sky. These orders are the very definition of corrupted power – sowing very real pain, very real fear, and ruining lives in the most vulnerable American communities.
We know these orders are not about national security, not about public safety, and not about the well-being of Americans. They are simply a diversion for the wholesale pillaging of our economy, our land, and our democratic values.
So yes, there is a very real fight out there.
But there is also a very real battle inside of each us.
It is a battle of wills. It is a battle of hope over despair. Each headline we see is yet another cut in our already embattled armor. Another reason to sigh one of those big, eye-rolling sighs and wonder what is happening to this country.
We have spent a lot of our time lamenting our losses. Why didn’t we win that last election? Why didn’t we better secure the gains for our communities? Why didn’t we – once and for all – beat back the worst American impulses in the last eight years?
We must remember that this fight did not start on January 20th of this year. It did not start with this last campaign season – or even in the last presidency. The real fight we are in is best demarcated by generations and not presidencies.
The underlying systems and institutions that have been holding people back were designed and reinforced well before my time, and even before my parents’. This fight goes back centuries.
When I look at this fight I see both our wins and losses, both the peaks and valleys. And in the end, I choose to view this history from a place of hope. To honor all that we have gained without losing sight of all that we still must fight for.
We are in a particularly critical moment right now in our democracy. This Administration is playing out a shock and awe campaign against the American people like we’ve never seen before. They are good at playing to the cameras. They want us to believe they have overwhelming power and hold all the cards.
They don’t. We know different. We know that just like the president’s hairstyle and spray tan – their power is just a façade.
But if we fall for this façade, we lose. Because the Administration’s path to victory directly cuts through each of us. It runs through that internal battle between hope and despair. And the biggest danger I see is losing our hope and our gumption for the fight and retreating to a place of fear and inaction.
We cannot win from that place.
When we look back at our wins, the greatest leaps forward in our movement did not originate from that place of despair. They came from one of creativity, and hope, and vision. They came from a place where people knew they were standing on the shore of real progress and understood that it was their job to reach for the next, to reach for the better.
The Freedom Riders knew that. The Farmworkers knew that. The Dreamers knew that.
Those leaders saw their contributions as just one part of that long arc of justice we all hear about. They worked for the long haul, day in and day out.
And that’s what is in front of us today. We are here to stand on those shores and reach out for a stronger democracy in California and in the nation. We must set our sights on building a democracy designed not for the past but for the future. To build a democracy that can fundamentally shift who gets a say in the policies and laws of this land and in the kind of community we all share.
As always, I stand right there with you.
Image: John Kim at the Participation and Power Summit in Los Angeles, CA. Feb 2nd, 2017. Photos by David Ng.