We are approaching elections very soon, and I see many posts on Facebook regarding the ineffectiveness of voting. I understand the disheartening feeling of oppression, the lackluster ambivalence to a system that seems irreparable, even the hopelessness that ensues. I do understand and commiserate. However, I do not believe that justifies many Americans’ refusal to vote.
During the candidates’ announcement I began noticing a trend I had not seen in years, college students becoming passionate about having their voices heard. I read Facebook events of students carpooling to rallies and primaries, my heart leapt into my throat. I will even publicly admit I was a bit tearful. Why? What does it matter? We cannot change anything, can we?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead, Anthropologist
Do you think Martin Luther King thought change was impossible, and if he did would have changed his course? I doubt it. What about the brave students who stood alongside him? What if they faltered? One thing unified these people, can you imagine what it was?
Is your answer, they all wanted freedom from oppression? While freedom from many of the horrible laws and equality was definitely a major driving factor for what unified all of these people, it is not the exact answer that unifies them all.
In this photo, we see a young man and woman holding up signs about their faith. Do you think it is religion? No, it would be far too simple to toss it to the man upstairs whomever you believe that to be. Religion is not the answer to this query.
They were all people of color, is that what you think? It is a ‘black’ versus ‘white’ issue, is it not? No it is not, as you can see people of all races stood together arm in arm. Imagine that! Let’s move away from the Civil Rights Movement, and Dr. King for a moment.
Let’s skip to the Vietnam War. Again, we see citizens participating in lawful civil disobedience. Yet, the people in the photo shown are discussing democracy, and their rights. Democracy is the answer, correct? Wrong again. Democracy is a dramatic clue to the unifying theme of all of these photos and movements, but it is only part of the equation.
Still not seeing it?
Let’s skip to more current times, something more relative. The Occupy Movement on Wall Street filled the financial district crying out for change.
In these images we see a theme of inequality, injustice and poverty. When we look back to the Civil Rights Movement we can see similar themes. Money. Finally, is that the right answer? Before you zone out, flip a table or two or run off to watch E!, I can assure you money is NOT the answer. It is a common theme in all of the protests presented, but not the one unifying factor. It is important to note that even during the Civil Rights Movement, people understood that voting with your ballot and your money is equally important. They fought for many of the same things we fight for today, and like us used their hard-earned cash to vote when they could not do so with a ballot.
You begin to notice similarities when looking at these protestor’s signs. An eerie similarity to our current civil climate begins to take hold, does it not?
History repeats itself you think…
It does, and if it does you should take heart! The Civil Rights Movement was successful, and great change has happened. I look around and smile seeing people of many colors arm in arm. Children of mixed-race abound throughout every city and municipality which makes me very proud. It should make us all proud.
I even smile and shake my head at those who disagree with diversity and celebrate hatred. I dislike their message, abhor it really, but that they can say it without being killed or harmed gives me solace. History and my peace of mind or yours, still is not the answer to this looming question.
What is the answer that unifies all of these protests and protesters ?
I will give you a clue, look at this photo. Now, look at the sign and look closely. What does it say? ‘I am an American, also.’
Powerful, is it not? He is an American!
Yes, that is the answer!
Now, you are grumbling thinking I read through all of this for the blatantly obvious? What a waste of my time! I could have been surfing the web, and I will never get that time back!
Yes, yes he’s an American- we get it!
How many times in a day do you associate yourself with those neat little census boxes? White- check, female- check. Or maybe African American – check, male- check. How about for your insurance, social media or culinary choices? LGBT- check, looking for male- check, Vietnamese foodie- check, check, check.
Answer this question, the first thing that pops in your head.
What are you? The most analytical mind starts with human, the obvious. Many of us start with gender what we were born as or relate to- either way it is usually where we begin. Most of us then digress to this-
‘I’m Irish-Italian on my mother’s side.’
‘My people were originally from Nigeria, but we have Choctaw heritage as well. Some may say I’m Chinese with some Korean blood. Still others relate to the French or German. Many the English and Scottish. ‘
Do you see the resounding failure here? Your HERITAGE is Irish, Scottish, Nigerian, Ukrainian, and so on.
You are an American. Yes, it is that simple. It is the one thing that unites all of these brave women and men of all color and heritage. They were and all are Americans. Next time when someone asks you, where are you from or who you are simply say, “I’m an American”
Now let’s use this election year to make that statement something to be proud of, something to cherish and not something to hide. Say it proudly, regardless of your heritage, your skin shade, your religious preference, or the numbers in your account. Do not disparage, we can change the world, so let’s start at home- let’s start as Americans! Vote with pride, vote for change, vote for your choice, but vote!
Remember history does repeat itself, and the following people changed their country and the world:
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We must become the change we wish to see in the world.”
~ Mahatma Ghandi
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Are you going to put yourself in a box? I hope that as you contemplate what it means to be an American you do not simply think in boxes, stereotypes and census data. I hope that instead of simply feeding the boxes you have been thrown into, you feed the one that means the most, for all of our futures- the ballot box.