On this particular week—a week sandwiched by an ominous presidential inauguration and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I’m looking forward and wondering what I can do. Perhaps it has been a perfect storm that has pushed my thoughts: First, I was asked to participate in my church’s MLK Day video project. A number of us from the congregation read portions of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I have heard that oration a number of times, but reading it aloud with all I now know and what I’ve seen, thought, and felt lately, the weight of King’s words was even more imposing. I couldn’t finish it without a tear forming in my eye and a lump filling my throat.
Then my family went to see Hidden Figures, and I walked away feeling inspired and hopeful. Finally, I had lunch with a dear family friend, and we discussed the current and future condition of our country—and contemplated the corresponding commission upon every concerned citizen.
I am not going to list the reasons why I’m gravely disappointed that Trump has been elected president. I’ve expressed some of my thoughts on him already and believe that topic is better suited to face-to-face conversation. Suffice it to say that I do not judge him based on the testimony of others. Suffice it to say that, while I respect the office of the president, I am not obligated to give the man holding that title “a chance” as though he is a blank slate who hasn’t said or done deplorable things.
Respect isn’t compulsory; it’s earned. I am allowed to hold Trump accountable for his actions and words. Democracy demands it. And should he do good work on behalf of our country, I believe I’ll be able to admit that. This is simply where I state that I am deeply concerned about America and see Trump’s election as a symptom of a potentially fatal condition that we the people must remedy.
Usually I try to stay as far away as possible from politics. My limited encounters with it have left me exasperated and cynical. I must admit that there are dedicated civil servants who are genuinely more concerned with making this country a better place for everyone, but they appear to be the rare exception. Mostly I see people who would rather watch the country falter or its citizens suffer than see someone from the other side of the aisle succeed or get positive credit for anything. It infuriates me.
Imagine a severely ill or injured person in a hospital. Two competing doctors spend so much time debating over the best course of action that nothing gets done and the patient dies. Or, not wanting the other doctor to get credit for saving someone’s life, each physician buries the hospital’s resources in dysfunctional bureaucracy and gratuitous delays. That is what politics sometimes looks like to me. America is suffering; Americans are in deep distress, but too many politicians care more about winning or getting credit than actually solving any problems.
Is there a cure for what ails our country? Can we mend the breaks that hurt and divide us? Can we take healthy steps forward? In looking for ways to face the present and future, I am inspired by the past. Imagine what it took to organize the bus boycotts in Montgomery. It was done before Facebook and Twitter—before anyone had hundreds of “friends” or thousands of “followers.” It was done before there was a computer in every house and a smartphone in every hand. And the movement didn’t just get black people to stop riding the bus; it organized other ways for them to get to and from work. Imagine that—what it took to pull it off.
With all the tools we now have at our disposal, shouldn’t those of us who are dissatisfied with, afraid of, or appalled by some of the things happening in this country be able to do something as grand and as well coordinated as the bus boycotts in Montgomery? Shouldn’t we be able to do more than develop a trending hashtag or create a viral video and take actions that actually lead to the progress of justice and equality?
I think that sometimes my generation (and I must include myself) is very good at criticizing, but not as consistent in creating real solutions. It’s understandable, but not excusable. Solutions are hard to come by. Wanting to make a difference is a significant number of steps behind actually making one. Hoping things will change or improve is just the first quarter mile on the ultramarathon of actually changing or improving them. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or feel insignificant. But that’s when we must remind each other of how powerful we can be when we ordinary folks band together and do something with large-scale unity.
So what can an average person do? What is the citizen’s solution? I believe history holds the answers. No matter how far back in time I look, I see one common cause to almost everything that stands in the way of this country being a land of opportunity for all—to the elevation of some groups and the subjugation of others. There is a consistent culprit to what divides this union: It is the gluttonous pursuit of money. Greed isn’t just a difficult problem or adversary of epic proportions; it’s biblical, “for the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10a).
It is because of money that slavery and its ensuing ramifications of racism and inequality infiltrated our country like a time-released poison. I do not believe anyone just “had it out” for Africans or even comprehended the long-term repercussions of inheritable enslavement. No one sat in his parlor and thought: I’d really love to travel to Africa; grab a bunch of people; deny their humanity; force them to live, work, and reproduce according to my interests; and then make sure that even when slavery ends its toxins infect generation upon generation. I am unaware of any such prophetic plot. No. Enough people simply realized that free labor was massive-profit-making labor, and greed filled in the rest.
Money is a powerful motivator, and so I believe it must be acknowledged as both part of the problem and part of the solution. It will require give and take. That give and take is not just compromise. It is not just putting aside political or ideological or any other manner of differences and looking for a mutually satisfactory solution. That, of course, is necessary too. We (people and politicians) must become more concerned with results than who gets the glory. We must care more about educating all of our nation’s children than we care about who gets credit for fixing the schools or teaching them. We must care more about seeing that those who are willing and able to work have jobs than we care about who hired them. We must care more about the health and progress of our country as a whole and for the long term than we care about whether everything is easier or cheaper for us personally right now.
So my idea for a give and take movement includes the attempt to cooperate and compromise, but it also has to do with money. As I’ve written on other occasions, I think it is very important to give. What’s more, everyone can give something—time, talent, money, contacts, ideas, et cetera. Who should you give to? Get personal. Find a cause that you believe in and then an organization you think is doing a good job in that arena. Can’t find one? Maybe you and a few friends could start one. That’s the “give.”
There are too many lapses, too many places in our country and its systems where certain people have much less or close to nothing and others have much more than they need and are literally throwing away excess. Giving helps distribute resources more equally. But giving must go beyond money. Giving must also include resources, knowledge, and opportunity. The ultimate goal of giving is not a warm fuzzy feeling. They ultimate goal of giving must be the recipient’s self-sufficiency.
Now for the “take.” There are certain entities that should be punished financially. I have very personal reasons for boycotting certain companies, and because they are personal, I hold on to them fiercely—even when it costs me time, convenience, or money. What if we the people started to take public problems personally?
What if a collective of individuals decided on a few strategic companies to stop utilizing? The list of businesses would be small and focused and have a clear reason, message, and goal for boycotting each entity. Trying to keep track of all the problematic enterprises in the world can easily get overwhelming, but what if we targeted two or three companies at a time until we got results? This would be the “take.” We would take our money from them by not purchasing their products or in any way contributing to their bottom lines. And then we would take our money elsewhere until our clear and measurable goals were realized.
Just as in the example set by the Montgomery bus boycotts, we would deliver our message in the form of withdrawn patronization for the purpose of economic punishment. Where moral entreaties fail, we can use monetary motivation. In the face of discrimination, we can threaten profit margins. In the absence of human decency, we can protest by withholding our money.
Give and take—that’s my suggestion for change. Let’s contribute everything we can to those whose goals and methods are commendable and help them succeed. And let’s not fund those who are negligent, nefarious, or otherwise unworthy.
If money talks, let’s raise our collective voice to bring positive change to America. Let’s fight the good fight for love, equality, and justice, but instead of our fists, let’s use our finances.
“When morality comes up against profit, it is seldom that profit loses.” ~Shirley Chisholm
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘we.’” ~Barack Obama