As troubling as the events of the last 14 months have been, the resilience of America’s democratic institutions – and our people – has been heartening to all of us who are dedicated to our nation’s most fundamental values.
In the Congress, in our Courts and on the streets of our country, the foundational premise of our government, “We the People,” has been imbued with heightened meaning. Americans of every ethnic background and faith tradition have been responding to the attacks upon our society, marching in common purpose and raising our voices in a shared refrain.
“We are better than this,” an engaged national majority has been declaring, “and we are determined that our government – a government dedicated to be of, by and for the people – will be better as well.”
During Black History Month 2018, we honor the accomplishments and contributions of those upon whose shoulders we stand. We also should acknowledge and draw inspiration from the countrywomen and men in our own time who have been marching up history’s protest road in defense of our most cherished ideals.
In his Farewell Address, President Obama called upon each of us to commit ourselves to greater social and political engagement. He understood – as do I – that the ultimate support for American democracy is the character of an engaged people, determined to be respected and free.
We now are living in a moment of our history when our core democratic values and institutions are under attack – challenged by forces both foreign and domestic.
It is no overstatement to declare that we are in a fight for the soul of our democracy.
Our nation and society are at a crossroads, a critical turning point when “We, the People” must decide what kind of America we will become.
This is why it has been so heartening to me that, in growing numbers, the American people have been responding to President Obama’s call.
Since January of last year, millions of Americans have been demonstrating that they understand the essential insight that underlies Barack Obama’s vision: “We the People” are the ultimate guardians of our most cherished ideals and our hard-won power to chart our own destiny through the power of our ballots.
As it was in that time when I was young, the growing sense of the American people that we have the power to protect and improve our lives began in protest – and, in the future, our history will chronicle that our nation’s women, including women of color, were in the front lines of our nation’s democratic response to the forces of reaction.
Last year, on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, millions of American women and men marched in protest, declaring that they would not be moved – except on a path forward toward greater justice and equity in our society.
Soon thereafter, millions more organized and marched to protect our nation and our future against the deadly threat of climate change – and, when our dream of universal access to quality health care was attacked, women and men by the millions organized and successfully challenged those who would deny that healthcare is a fundamental human right.
Then, in contested elections held in Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama, engaged women and men moved from protest to tangible empowerment by taking the lead in winning hard-fought electoral victories, foreshadowing what we hope will be even more widespread national success on Election Day 2018.
In Virginia and, especially, in Alabama, it was clear that women – and, especially, Black women – were the key to victory.
The progressive victories in these states, one purple and one deep red, were also possible because the national Democratic leadership supported the grass roots efforts of local Black women in encouraging African Americans and young people to exercise their electoral power.
I am convinced that the history that Black progressives were instrumental in achieving in Virginia and Alabama offers a clear roadmap to progressive success on Election Day 2018.
At the national level, we must continue to actively support those local grass roots leaders who are taking action on President Obama’s call for wider civic participation, even as we continue to resist the reactionary forces that are threatening our democracy.
Our message to the American people must be clear and succinct.
A unified progressive alliance will not only fight against the reactionary policies of President Trump and his Republican congressional allies. We will fight for the American people and the policies that will empower them to achieve better lives.
This, I am convinced, is how we will move from protest to empowerment. This is how we will restore our cherished democracy.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.