A Reflection For Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Dr. King’s memory inspires hope, but it also demands that we continue to call out the injustice that we see -- from this president, and also in an entire system built to keep people down along racial and economic lines.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes at what I hope can be a turning point in our history.

We saw the last-gasp of Donald Trump’s presidency at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago — and it’s no surprise that it ended with the same violence, racism, and hate that he has inflicted on this country, and in particular, Black and Brown communities for his entire presidency.

It disgusted me to see a Confederate flag — a symbol of those who ripped our country apart to preserve the institution of slavery — in the U.S. Capitol building.

And it enraged me — after a summer marked by police violence against peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters — to see how unprepared (at best) law enforcement was for the onslaught that left five dead, with some officers appearing to actively support the insurrection.

The fact is, the challenges we face are bigger than Donald Trump — which means they won’t magically get better when he leaves office on Wednesday. 

After all, Trump’s attacks on the legitimacy of our election — and his efforts to suppress Black and Brown voters — were aided by hundreds of Members of Congress, state legislators, and attorneys general. Even after the violent attempt to overthrow our government and literally kill elected officials, many are still maintaining the lie that the election was illegitimate.

That lie fueled the violence we saw on January 6th, violence I fear could continue into the future. And, it will soon fuel an onslaught of state-level attempts to silence people through gerrymandering and voter suppression — on top of how the unrepresentative Senate and the broken Electoral College stack the deck against truly representative government.

Today, as we honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s work with our nation’s only federally designated day of service — we must also recognize that his demands for justice and equality were caricatured, misrepresented, and demeaned as much as in their time as the Black Lives Matter movement is today.

Dr. King’s memory inspires hope, but it also demands that we continue to call out the injustice that we see — from this president, and also in an entire system built to keep people down along racial and economic lines.

We believe that each of us, no matter who we are, should have a meaningful say in the decisions that affect our lives. And that principle is fundamentally incompatible with the white supremacist ideas and systems brought to the forefront in recent years.

So — I want you to know that in order for Common Cause’s democracy work to meaningfully address the problems we now face, we need to focus on the people our democracy is failing the most.

Common Cause’s priority policies in the coming year will help correct racial inequities in how the government represents us — including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (H.R. 4), the For The People Act (H.R.1), D.C. statehood and other accountability measures. You will be asked in the coming days and months to write to your members of Congress to help make sure they are signed into law.

We will also need to take on Mitch McConnell — and the outsize power wielded by his GOP Senate caucus that has always represented a disproportionately white minority of the country’s population. We simply can’t let him and a minority of the Senate continue to stonewall against COVID-19 relief, an impeachment trial, and countless other priorities for the American people.

And, we must ramp up our grassroots organizing work at the state level to stop racial and partisan gerrymandering, voter suppression, and anything else that gets in the way of our right to have a meaningful say in how we are governed.

In addition to our external work, Common Cause, like many organizations, is also evaluating our own internal practices with a racial equity lens. That’s a process that requires honesty and vulnerability — and recognizing that we have much work to do.

The good intentions we were founded with — to preserve and strengthen American democracy — cannot be realized without a firm commitment to dismantling white supremacy. That requires doing our own internal work as a predominantly white organization and partnering with organizations and communities that represent the whole country, not just one part of it.

I invite you to join us on this journey, wherever you are in it — because we simply cannot make our vision of a democracy that works for all of us a reality without it.

P.S. One tangible action you can take right now to celebrate this national day of service is by providing tomorrow’s democracy leaders with the resources they need to make a difference on their campuses and in their communities. Common Cause’s Student Action Alliance is active on 16 Historically Black College & University campuses, and your contribution will help cultivate these young leaders and support their work >>