As we approach another election, I am suddenly confronted with the question of what makes a political activist? For each of us, the answer is unique to our own individual lives but the reasons are the same in some ways. It can be an event or a cause that triggers the need to make a difference. For me it was probably a combination of things, that caused a political awakening, that demanded from me the need to be actively involved in trying to make a difference in people’s lives.
My love of history and the inspiration of doing something, being part of a cause larger than oneself impacted my life. Witnessing injustice in the home of my youth contributed to my becoming an activist. I was raised in New Orleans during the time when Civil Rights became a cause worth fighting for. The inspiration of leaders during our country’s history contributed mightily to my life’s passion for politics as well. Whether it was reading about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, the point was that their exemplary lives, lives that made a difference led one to hope that each of us in our own way can make a contribution.
For many of my generation the simple truths that President John F. Kennedy espoused moved us to action. For it is true that each generation has the torch of liberty passed to us. We are given the awesome responsibility to work to maintain what was given to us and to pass the torch forward to our own children and grandchildren the message that life, liberty, equality, fraternity and the ability to pursue happiness in our daily lives is a gift to pass on to each of us and to the succeeding generations.
During the decade of the 60’s, there were many causes to hang our hat on. Civil rights provided an impetus. A quilt of many colors saw individual Americans from many walks of life working to make our dream of democracy a reality for all Americans for the first time. We lived through a tumultuous time
The war in Vietnam made many of us, activists. The idea of dying in a jungle in a foreign land for a cause not worth dying for impacted my generation for a lifetime. It was hard to not get involved, it was a matter of life and death. It was a war that tore our nation apart. The young and the older generation often found themselves at odds over whether or not the war was the right war or an immoral and illegal act.
The realization that our air was polluted and that our water was dirty created a sense of activism for many who wished to ensure that our environment needed saving and improving.
For many women the 60’s brought the beginnings of activism as women sought to have independent lives and equal treatment before the law, power over their own bodies, and equal treatment in the workplace.
The 60’s were times when change was the norm. We take many of the freedoms gained during those fractious times, for granted now. Those times of activism and change extended into the 70’s.
It is hard to imagine that looking back, the fact was that many of our citizens could not vote, that many could not drink from the same water fountain or go to the same school or eat at the same lunch counter. It is hard to imagine that the air was so bad, that it hurt to breathe the air that we share. It is hard to believe that women were treated so poorly, they were treated like chattel. Rapes went unreported and women had to break through way too many glass ceilings.
Each decade seems to bring with it new challenges. For changes that have taken place, the current decade sees many of the things that we take for granted being challenged. Rights that many fought for are in danger of disappearing.
But with the challenge of maintaining the rights that we have, come new challenges to our way of life.
For some of us political parties are the instrument through which battles are fought and sometimes lost. New challenges present themselves, especially now as the planet is too crowded and too hot.
The heat of religious radicalism has joined the overheating of the planet as new causes that challenge all of us.
The ever-increasing disparity of income presents new concerns and worries for each of us. Declining wages and increasing prices have brought back the horrors of economic inequality that we have not seen for some time.
Too much money in politics has brought with it many elected officials whose support has been bought and paid for.
With these challenges both old and new, come the opportunity to make a difference. Each town, village and city offer opportunities to be part of democracy in action. Each community probably has an issue of concern that each one of us can volunteer to help in. There might be an issue that is of pressing concern to the citizens such as the cost of water or whether there is enough water. Perhaps education is an area that can be improved on. The point is to get involved. Be involved so that your own town is a better place. Activism is not just for the young or the elderly. I know for parents it is hard to find the time in one’s busy life, but find time.
It is easy to be discouraged. Change takes time and for some of us, change is too scary to be accepted. Some of our fellow citizens see change as something to be feared. But real positive change is a conservative action, for in order for us to conserve our way of life we must change with the times. Apathy and fear are our enemies. Conserving what is worth keeping is a positive and progressive movement as we go forward into history.
It is my fervent hope that as we approach another election, we will find new activists. If your candidate does not win, do not get discouraged and so disappointed as to not be involved. Stick with it, you can make a difference in people’s lives. If someone says why are you doing this, you can’t make a difference, answer their question by simply saying why not try. The hope is that the torch of liberty will be passed to a new generation. It is with the young that our future belongs. It is with their optimism and idealism that the hopes of future generations reside. Let us not leave to them a life not worth living. Let us continue to be like the activist’s of old and fight to maintain the gifts we were given in our youth and continue to fight to maintain the increased rights that we so valiantly fought for.