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SPLC President: Giving thanks and finding hope in a year of tragedy and transition

For many of us this year, the holiday season will be like no other due to the unchecked pandemic and our resulting public health crisis. Some of us will completely forgo gathering around a table with family and friends. Others may have a small gathering limited only to their immediate household. Tragically, countless people across the country will not see a loved one because they are among the more than a quarter million lives lost.

Despite the heartbreak, we can find reasons to be thankful.

After four years of attacks on facts, common decency, basic human rights and democracy itself, we now have an opportunity to build a more just and equitable nation for all. The American people sent a clear and compelling message in the presidential election by selecting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to put the country on a new path.

The choice not only demonstrated a longing for competence and compassion, but a determination to bend the arc of history by electing Harris vice president – the first woman, Black woman and Asian American elected to the office. It was a joyful moment in a year marked by a long-overdue awakening to racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd and so many other people of color killed at the hands of police.

Another reason to give thanks is the news that more than one promising COVID-19 vaccine may be on the horizon. But it is critical that we take the necessary steps to address this pandemic – and protect the public – in the meantime. That’s why I’m grateful that one of the first acts by President-elect Biden was the creation of a COVID -19 task force. It reaffirmed his pledge to “spare no effort” to rein in this historic crisis with science, reason and bold action.

‘Vision for a Just Future’

Of course, there is still much work ahead for those of us committed to social justice. That is why the Southern Poverty Law Center created its presidential transition memo – Vision for a Just Future – a blueprint offering progressive measures to bring deep, meaningful change to the communities we serve throughout the Deep South and the rest of the country.

2020 taught us how much we rely on each other and the essential leadership role government must play in protecting our rights and well-being. Now is the time to build the kind of world we want – a world where all of us can thrive. But to do so, we must remain engaged and recognize the ongoing responsibility that comes with our right to vote. Control of the U.S. Senate hinges on the January runoff elections in Georgia. The ballots cast there will have serious ramifications for millions of people in all 50 states

Every vote matters. Whether it’s for the Senate or our local school boards or city councils, a healthy, representative democracy depends on each of us making our voices heard at the ballot box.

That’s why the SPLC is investing $30 million from its endowment in nonpartisan, nonprofit voter outreach through its Vote Your Voice initiative – a partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta that aims to increase voter registration and participation among people of color over several election cycles. The project recently provided 10 grants worth more than $2 million to organizations dedicated to voter education and mobilization in the run-up to the December and January elections in Georgia and Louisiana.

For those who would like to get involved in this effort, we are hosting SPLC Power Hours through the Georgia runoffs. Using your phone at home, you can help get out the vote in the Peach State, whether it’s assisting with registrations or absentee ballot applications. These convenient virtual phone banks provide a script, the names and phone numbers of voters, and instructions to record the results of a conversation. You can sign up here.

Finally, as we observe the holidays, I urge you to take a moment to remember friends, neighbors and others within your community who may need your help.

I cannot forget the video of the thousands of cars that lined up when a Dallas food bank opened its doors on a recent Saturday. A news report noted that the North Texas Food Bank provided more than 600,000 pounds of food to 25,000 people in one day – a painful reminder of our nation’s inequities and the fragile existence so many people endure. Earlier this year, a food bank in the SPLC’s home state of Alabama distributed 10 tons of food at a time when 22% of the population was reported to be food-insecure – one of the highest rates in the nation.

Whether it’s through a donation, volunteering your time or simply sharing food pantry information, there’s a way to make a difference today, and in the weeks to come. Here’s an online tool to help you with the first step of finding a local food bank.

As we look ahead to 2021, I commit to you that the SPLC will continue to work tirelessly with the communities we serve to address our society’s most pressing problems –  marching toward the day when justice and equity is a reality for all. It’s work that would not be possible without your support and confidence. And for that, we are truly thankful.

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