Let's close out 2023 with some inspiration. Sure, there's plenty out there that's awful and scary; think particularly of the resurgence of the Orange Con Man and his legion of vicious acolytes and scam artists. But there is much to celebrate as well.
Sherrilyn Ifill served as the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) from 2013 to 2022. She knows what it is to struggle for justice for and with people who are granted none. And she came out of her role with a vision:
... I have come to believe that we are facing such strong opposition precisely because we have won so much.
In the decades following the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the women’s movement, we have effectively reset the cultural, social, and political life of this country from the patriarchal and white supremacist standards that dominated American life in the early 1950s. Now we are seeing the backlash.
That display of power, that burgeoning swell of solidarity, also generated the fear that has motivated recent efforts to ban books and undermine protests—including a Florida law that would grant immunity to motorists who drive into crowds of protesters.
The recent upsurge in voter suppression bills is likewise a response to the resilience that voters showed in 2020, especially Black voters, who cast the last ballot in the presidential primary in Harris County, Texas, at 1 AM and stood on line in Fulton County, Georgia, for nine hours to vote early in the general election. Georgia’s Republicans soon after passed a law criminalizing the provision of refreshments to people standing on line to vote. (It was subsequently narrowed by a federal judge.)
It is critical for us to understand that this wave of repression is a response to our demonstrations of power. We must not prematurely abandon the actions that have so frightened our opponents. This is not the time to give up empathy or solidarity, to stop voting or marching or organizing.
... we need to pursue power, and when we have power we need to be prepared to make transformative change. I hope we’ll see this in the coming years. We must be prepared to leave behind traditions and policies that have not served us as a democracy, whether that means reforming long-standing rules that inhibit effective representation in the Senate, or adding seats to the Supreme Court, or reimagining public safety to address police brutality and racism, or adopting a guaranteed national income, or pursuing new models of public education.
Progressive people often seem averse to the pursuit of power. It is as though we think “power” is a bad word. We think it unseemly. We worry, perhaps appropriately, about how power can corrupt and harm. But that is what happens when people abuse their power. It is not power’s natural tendency.
We must believe enough in our own integrity to trust ourselves with power. “Power without love is reckless and abusive,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, and "love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love."
We must pursue power to implement the demands of justice, and the justice that we seek must correct that which stands against love. I pray, encourage, and entreat you to join me and so many others who are committed to this struggle. I know that we can win, but only if we truly engage the fight.
It is right for democratic people (small "d") to work for more democratic power to increase justice. And it requires power to implement more justice. Unionized workers know this. Demonstrators who take to the streets know this. Many election campaigners know this. There's nothing else to do but to engage.