This past weekend’s 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, reminds us that much work still needs to be done to bring equality to everyone in this country. More importantly, it shows that voices united can make a difference. Without a united voice from people regardless of their race, ethnicity, creed, immigration status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, we could not begin to tackle issues like voting rights, economic justice, immigration reform, or the repealing of stand your ground laws.
This quest does not just fall on the shoulders of individuals like Jessie Jackson or Al Sharpton; it falls on every individual in this country who believes that equality applies to everyone, not just a select few. Let’s face the facts we cannot just expect the individuals who originally marched back in 1963 or have fought for equality since to continue to push equality for my generation and the generation to follow. They will not be around forever and it would be a great injustice if we simply stood by idle and let their hard fought battle, which caused some their lives, to go for naught.
Fortunately, this commemorative march brought together people of all generations who are committed to fight the long hard battle for equality. Some may have been galvanized by the Travon Martin case, the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the push for immigration reform, jobs, LGBT equality, DC statehood or a variety of issues. Regardless of the individual goal, we see that so much has been accomplished in the past 50 years, but much more still needs to be done.
As we know, equality won’t be achieved simply by showing up on the National Mall on a sun soaked Saturday afternoon in late August. However, the strong showing of support for issues of equality at the seat of our government shows our elected officials and people around the country (and the world) that progress will not be thwarted because the strength is in the numbers. Now we as a country must turn our attention to not only a plan of action, but to being more civically and politically involved.
We must make being civically involved more than just a requirement to graduate high school or to be able to get into a good college or university. Don’t get me wrong this required civic engagement is important. However, when something is required it is often seen as just something to needs to be done quickly and never be done again. Instead, we need to instill in our friends, family, and co-workers that being civically involved is a lifelong commitment that makes us better as a society.
What’s the best way to do this you may ask? Well, you can start by volunteering for a cause that you personally connect with and bring a few friends, family members, or co-workers who feel the same way as you do. And if it is done as a requirement, focusing on an area of importance to you will help to eliminate the stigma associated with doing things as a requirement. Additionally, the organizations will benefit as well because they stand to gain committed volunteers who will show up year around, not just at critical academic times.
The work does not stop with finding an organization that you connect to on a personal level. We need to start thinking about why these organizations are needed in a society where we expect the government to protect and care for the people. This is where the political engagement comes in.
Volunteering may fill you with a sense of pride, accomplishment or civic duty, but it should also fill you with a sense of political engagement. The aim of the organization you so freely give your time for may be to provide job training and clothing for low income residents of your city for example. However, some thought should also be given to what is the government doing about employment and why is this organization filling this void?
The simple answer is going to be that the government does not have the money or the capacity to take care of every person in this country. Fair enough. In this case this organization is filling the void and you are helping to ensure that we live in an effective society. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and say that while this is true, this doesn’t simply mean the government can just release all responsibility. The government should at least be helping to subsidize some of these services or at the very least create a pipeline to government employment with these organizations.
But as we all know, we don’t live in an ideal world and things are not always so black in white. That is why we need to be political engaged to see exactly why the government may not be able to provide job training for these low income individuals in your city. It may be discovered that the root of the problem is your elected official who doesn’t see this as a pressing issue or the mismanagement of funds. If this were the case you would know how to act politically to try to rectify the problem— reach out to your elected official, vote another person in office, call for greater accountability, etc.
Simply, civic and political engagement is by no means easy or provides a quick fix to issues, but we all have the power to change things for the better because of them. That is a major take away from the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington; we have the power to change things and can do so with some hard work and a plan of action. If we as a society increase our efforts even a little bit, equality for all can and will be accomplished. We owe it to those who paved the way before us and the future generations of this country.