I will be the first to admit that November eighth, 2016 shook me to the core. It was not just because “my side lost.” No, it was more that. My world view was lost. You see, I used to believe that progress was a force that simply could not be stopped. Oh, sure, it could be slowed down and perhaps at times seem to be halted, but never actually stopped and certainly never reversed. In this, I was wrong.
I based my old belief in progress upon my study of history. After all, even a casual read of American history tells a tale of progress. We once were subjects of a King, now we are citizens of a democracy. Once slavery was legal, now human trafficking is a criminal offense that is vigorously prosecuted. Once only white males could vote, and now everybody above the age of eighteen who is not a felon can. Once there was “Jim Crow” and now…
Folks, I’m sure you see where this is going. The return of “Jim Crow” in the form of voter suppression laws should have clued me in. But I refused to see it because I fiercely wanted to believe that progress was somehow a law of nature. I wanted to keep believing that once a freedom was granted to the formerly disenfranchised there would be no going back. But that no longer seems to me to be the case. Trump’s election reveals that progress can be undone and, if we don’t resist, undone utterly.
The forces of regression have been revealed to be just as strong and just as determined as are those of progress. They see the advances of the last few generations as especially vulnerable and have been on the attack for decades whether we noticed or not. In 2015 gay marriage became legal in all fifty states, but already state “religious freedom” laws are attempting to undermine that gain. In 1973 women won the right to choose, but every year more and more legal roadblocks are put up to take that freedom away. In the 1960s Jim Crow segregation was smashed by the civil rights movement, but now many states are churning out voter suppression measures to bring it back.
In this time of regression, Trump is only the most visual manifestation of this cancer that is eating away past generations progressive gains. It is as if the blood and sacrifice of progressives from Fredrick Douglas to Harvey Milk are to be rendered moot by this onslaught. And as the 2017 US congers gets to work, I expect the regression to go national. Funding for education and social programs will be cut to starvation levels, and religions such as Islam will be placed under the federal microscope. Trump will happily appoint the most reactionary of judges to the Supreme Court and the Republican congress will approve them with an evangelical blessing.
In short, every right and every freedom that our parents and grandparents fought so hard to win will be under siege. And at a time like this, there is only one thing for people of good conscious to do—resist!
For every civil right they threaten, we must organize and we must push back lest the light go out forever. No longer can we rest in the assurance that previous progressive generations have done all the heavy lifting. The struggle goes on, and now it is our time! As Martin Luther King marched, we must march. As Joe Hill organized labor, we must re-organize labor. As Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s suffrage, we must fight for everybody’s suffrage.
There is a common saying in the US military, “Freedom isn’t free.” Soldiers know a price must be paid, a sacrifice made if we are to continue to bask in liberty’s warm glow. And I am willing to do everything a citizen can legally do to preserve freedom’s past gains, but I know that is not going to be enough.
And I’m not talking about breaking the law! I’m talking about pushing things forward. For it is not enough that we maintain the progress achieved so far. We must instead work to secure even more freedoms for us and generations to come. Face it, we will not win every battle. However, by standing still we invite them to push us back inch by inch until our forerunners gains evaporate entirely. But by pushing forward we open ourselves up to new victories while taking the foe’s attention off of the old ones. Like the football types say, “The best defense is a good offense!”
So we move forward. We press ahead. And we don’t leave future generations wondering why we let our society get dragged backward after the loss of 2016. Mohammed Ali said, “Don’t let a disappointment bring you down. Use it for power in the final round.” And, folks, this match isn’t even half over!
When Trump attempts to dismantle the EPA, we will not simply fight to preserve it but to expand it. As states fight to take away a woman’s right to choose, we will fight to make the procedure more affordable for low-income women. As they try to make voting harder, we will work to make is easier. As they marginalize religious and immigrant groups, we will bring them into the fold and welcome them to America. At no time will we cease in our march forward. And soon they will learn that attempting to push us back is merely a good way to get trampled.
This is my new world view. It is as hopeful as my previous one, but not nearly so apathetic. Freedom isn’t free, but it can be purchased with the honest sweat of determined struggle.
Now it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
By Clayton J. Callahan