By Ruth Gadebusch
We have just come off, arguably, the most contentious election of all time. While not as successful as we might have hoped for, or even expected, given this political climate, we the progressives, gained sufficiently to be faced with the responsibility of using our newfound power. With a nation so desperately needing unification, our first task must be seeking commonality.
We must not succumb to power, hubris, in places where we have strength. Unchecked power, such as the President and his Republican Congressional colleagues have exercised these last two years, can be just as damaging as no power. In the nation’s capital, the majority in the House is a firewall against an administration that has played to the dark side. In California, where the Democrats now appear to have a supermajority in the legislature, we must exercise restraint.
The power to be effective must be shared for the good of all. Our democracy demands it. Tempting as it might be, Democrats must not take the pitfall of tit for tat. Regarding freedom, which is most certainly a form of power, Peter Marshall, former U.S. Senate chaplain, challenged us, “May we think of freedom not as a right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”
Keep in mind it does no good to be there if you can’t do the right thing. That goes for our elected officials as well as those of us who put them there. It is at our own peril that we fail these high standards.
It is generally accepted that the U.S. Constitution is the best ever conceived document for governing. However, it too has its weak points as it was written when the the technology of today was unimaginable.
The Electoral College was designed as an instrument of power balance. Today, we view it as contributing to a split as different directions are taken by urban and rural voters. I do not believe that a single participant in developing that document ever expected it to place in the office of the president a person without the majority vote. It has now happened twice in recent elections.
Nor was it expected that gerrymandering would be such a powerful force in who gets elected. We can add money to that list of unintended results. It was thought that the vote was so powerful that citizens would use it well.
Obviously, the power of the vote has been recognized in the herculean efforts to suppress it from groups where it was thought would not go along with the power structure, thus endangering the exercise of incumbent power. Alas, through the years, humankind seems to have acquired a full array of tricks attempting to benefit the perpetrator over and above that of the entire group.
No one envisioned technology being used to defraud more than serve. No one thought the bad guys would be so successful in appealing to the lowest common denominator. Desire to serve for the good of the whole was the ideal that was sought when the nation was formed with such great thought and enthusiasm.
It was designed to continue to be the refuge of the downtrodden no matter where on this great planet. Currently, there is a wide movement to pull up the drawbridge now that we are here. Barriers instead of welcome mats.
We live on a planet with sufficient resources for all, but those resources are not equally distributed. These inequalities cannot be attributed to the actions of one group working harder than another, thereby worthy of more. We find scant willingness to share our good fortune.
Worst yet, to produce our own wealth we develop and market the major supply of weapons that continue to perpetuate trouble around the world. Even with all the indisputable evidence of how we are desecrating the planet, we little sacrifice our lifestyle to protect the natural resources for the future.
It is time to ask ourselves: Are we willing to adjust for the good of the future, for the good of our own descendants? Change comes in many forms. As the assassinated Oakland superintendent of schools told us, we could let it bolt us over or we could embrace it and try to direct it. In this spirit of hope for the newfound power, I adapt the message of the Mennonite Committee of Central Canada passed on by the Rev. Raygan Baker of the Big Red Church:
“In a world filled with violence and war, there is the promise of peace.
“In a world filled with tyranny and oppression, there is the promise of justice for all.
“In a world filled with hunger and greed, there is the promise of plenty for all.”
It is our obligation and privilege to work to fulfill that promise.
Ruth Gadebusch is a former naval officer, trustee of the Fresno Unified School District, president of the California Urban School Districts and member of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She continues as an activist in various organizations and as an emeritus member of the Board of the Center for Civic Education.