Opinion: The fight for democracy and social justice must go on

2022 was quite a year. Some of the regressive forces undermining our democracy, polluting our planet, widening inequality, and stoking hatred were pushed back. This is a worthy accomplishment and cause for celebration. It offers hope that the Trump years are behind us and the hard work of building a decent society can resume.

But this is no time for complacency. No one should assume that the battle has been won. The anti-democracy movement is still fulminating. Trump is still dangerous. Corporate malfeasance continues. The climate catastrophe is worsening. Inequality is widening. Reproductive rights have been dealt a major setback. The haters and bigots have not retreated.

These regressive forces have many weapons at their disposal — lobbyists, money to bribe lawmakers, giant media megaphones, the most right-wing Supreme Court since the 1930s, a GOP that has lost all moral bearings and a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

But their most powerful weapon is cynicism. They’re betting that if they can get most of us to feel like we can’t make a difference, we’ll stop fighting. Then they can declare total victory.

We must keep up the fight.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind. Notwithstanding setbacks, we are better today than we were 50 years ago, 20 years ago, even a year ago.

We’ve strengthened labor rights and LGBTQ rights. Most Americans are intent on strengthening women’s rights and civil rights. Most also want to extend Medicare for all, affordable child care, paid sick leave, and end corporate monopolies and corporate dominance of our politics. We have clean water laws and clean air laws. We’ve torn down Confederate statues and expanded clean energy.

And we’ve got a new generation of progressive politicians, labor leaders, and community organizers determined to make the nation and the world more democratic, more sustainable, more just.

They know that the strongest bulwark against authoritarianism is a society in which people have a fair chance to get ahead. The fights for democracy, social justice, and a sustainable planet are intertwined.

The battle is likely to become even more intense this year and the following. But the outcome will not be determined by force, fear, or violence. It will be based on commitment, tenacity, and unvarnished truth.

It is even a battle for the way we tell the story of America. Some want to go back to a simplistic and inaccurate narrative where we were basically perfect from our founding, where we don’t need to tell the unpleasant truths about slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all the other injustices.

But there is another story of America, one of imperfection but progress. In this story, which is far more accurate, reformers have changed this nation many, many times for the better.

From Martin Luther King Jr. to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to, more recently, Stacey Abrams, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Chris Smalls (who led the victory of Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse workers), Jaz Brisack (who led Starbucks workers), and Maxwell Alejandro Frost (the first Gen Z elected to Congress), and many others — individuals have repeatedly changed the course of history by refusing to believe that they could not stand up to repression, bigotry, and injustice.

You don’t have to be famous to be an agent of positive change. You don’t have to hold formal office to be a leader. Change happens when selfless individuals, some of whose names we will never know, give their energies and risk their livelihoods (and sometimes their lives) to make the world more humane.

Small actions and victories lead to bigger ones, and the improbable becomes possible.

Look, I know: The struggle can be exhausting. No one can go all in, all the time. That’s why we need to build communities and movements for action, where people give what effort they can, and are buoyed in solidarity with others.

That’s what we’re doing in a small way in this forum. Building community. Sharing information and analyses. Fortifying our commitment.

The reason I write is not just to inform (and occasionally amuse) you, but also to arm you with the truth — about how the system works and doesn’t, where power is located and where it’s lacking, and the myths and lies used by those who are blocking positive social change — so you can fight more effectively for the common good.

Here’s my deal. I’ll continue to provide facts and arguments. I’ll do whatever I can to help strengthen your understanding and resolve, and give you the information you need.

In return, please use the facts and arguments to continue the fight. To fight harder. And enlist others.

If at any time you feel helpless or despairing, remind yourself that the fight for democracy, social justice, and a sustainable planet is noble. The stakes could not be higher. And we will — and must — win.

— Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor, is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency LLC.


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