Who are we, America?
Just as the authoritarian-tinged tenure of Donald Trump underscores the question, the coronavirus and near shut-down of public life in response highlight this defining time in our democracy.
Will we allow the pandemic to pour fuel on demographic anxiety and ignite xenophobic policies and anti-Asian violence?
Will we stand by as the “haves” horde life-saving resources and bailouts while Black, Indigenous, immigrant and poor white communities, first responders, low-wage workers and other targeted populations once more bear the disproportionate brunt of the crisis?
Will we accept the cynical view that government is, at best, powerless to lift us up; at worst, the enemy of the public interest?
Or might this be the moment to find our common identity as a people in our core values, in a vision and daily practice of collective responsibility, in a commitment to a truly inclusive democracy? Could this be the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement?
We all know that when Trump praised the white nationalists in Charlottesville, despite their antisemitic rants and murderous recklessness, he was exploiting – not inventing – more than two decades of antigovernment rhetoric and increasing societal segregation. His administration’s appalling anti-immigrant policies didn’t come out of nowhere, either (trace the links on Western States Center’s Plot Against Immigrants). These policies exploit the demographic anxiety that has been a part of our evolving populace since the 19th century.
While Trump didn’t create these divisions in the body politic, he has deepened them. Organized bigotry and hate violence have increased over the past few years. It couldn’t be a worse time for a crisis that is already driving a boom in gun and ammunition sales, a crisis that could further pit neighbor against neighbor.
So who are we, America?
Is it possible that we might look in the mirror together and see reflected back an image that is stronger together? A global community of interdependent people. People who might surprise each other with care and concern, with humility and hospitality, with do-unto-others generosity. These are the core values that I have seen in my years as a Black man in America, among people of every race, religion, region, and – yes – even political party.
This is a time to calm demographic anxiety with messages and material action centered on the inescapable reality that we are only as strong as the most defenseless among us. My well-being is only secure if yours is, too.
This is a time to amplify a redemptive vision of government as the means by which we take care of each other. Community-based mutual aid is a beautiful thing, but this is not a time to give up on our insistence that government be by, for, and of the people. That government protect everyone’s basic rights – everyone’s. We must help our government express our core values. Hold government accountable for using our tax dollars to include, not exclude, all in our nation in a shared vision of health and prosperity.
This is a time, perhaps more than at any other time, to get serious about inclusive democracy.
When people ask what we mean by inclusive democracy, the answer is pretty simple. It’s what we work for everyday at Western States Center: a world where everyone can live, love, worship and work free from bigotry and fear.
We are proud of our partnership with SPLC to challenge the fearmongers and those who would use hate, violence – and a global health crisis – to fan the flames of exclusion. SPLC ensures that untold numbers of activists and organizers will have the tools and knowledge they need to ignite the 21st century civil rights movement.
The truth of our interconnectedness has never been more apparent. Let’s make collective responsibility and inclusive democracy the answer to the question, “Who are we, America?”
Eric K. Ward is Executive Director of Western States Center.
Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images