The content of this post appeared in the San Antonio Express News on Sunday, May 1st, 2016.
Dread about the state of the Union fills the atmosphere like steam from a boiling cauldron. You can’t see it but you can feel it. Dread spreading at the click of a send on Facebook and repetitive replay on news channels of the last lowest statement by a presidential candidate. Feeling embarrassed and disgusted with the tenor of this season’s primaries? Feeling worried about the widening chasm between political parties and among their most vocal representatives? Feeling frightened about the future of the U.S. considering the present unrest? Feeling helpless and maybe giving up or, worse, giving in to current conditions?
When I get myself worked up over the latest indicator of my country on the brink, it helps me to remember we have been here before. When we have been here before, we have worked our way back off the ledge. I grew up during the sixties and I daresay the sixties broke records for polarization and violence. Our stunned country mourned the assassinations of a popular president, a prominent civil rights leader, and a presidential candidate. Race riots and anti-war protests predominated in the news. Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, Lesbians and Women all pressed for equal rights, with violent push-back.
The 1968 Democratic National Convention made barroom brawls seem innocuous. With no candidate having garnered a clear majority of delegates, Robert Kennedy’s assassination haunting the proceedings, and polar opposite platforms of Humphrey and McCarthy, the convention became a battle-field where demonstrators for many causes —along with television news reporters —fought against and were brutally squelched by police and the National Guard.
If you are tempted to feel more discouraged by my digging in the sixties grave, stay with me! For all its troubles—indeed, because of its troubles — the sixties led to significant triumphs such as the Civil Rights Act and The Voting Rights Act extending freedoms to formerly disenfranchised populations. The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, The Black Panther Party, the National Organization for Women, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and Students for a Democratic Society continued to press our country toward fulfillment of “liberty and justice for all.”
What gives me hope is choice. We can choose. We can decide that we are helpless, conceding defeat and waiting for the worst to befall us. Or, we can choose that we are powerful, accepting responsibility for our personal responses to present conditions. We can tell which we are choosing by how we are acting. We can tell we are choosing helplessness when we retweet negative commentary, bath-mouth those whose politics we oppose, and wallow in hopelessness. We can tell we are choosing powerfulness when we debate issues rather than smear someone’s character; remind ourselves and others of our innate goodness and heartfelt desire for the good of all; and volunteer to support our preferred candidate.
We can choose. Dread or hope. Fear or love. Impotence or Power. Negative or Positive. I choose, as a spiritual leader in my community, to follow after the model of Mother Teresa who once said, essentially, don’t ask me to march against war; ask me to march for peace.