A message to the disappointedFran Quigley
Dear Disappointed: In my years working for NUVO, one of the greatest joys of the job was getting to meet so many of you and share your passion for justice and peace. In the past year, you have impressed me greatly. You drove over to Ohio to walk door-to-door for John Kerry. You stood out in the snow on Monument Circle to demonstrate against the war in Iraq. You wrote letters to your representative demanding living wages and health care instead of no-bid contracts for campaign contributors. The starving children in the Sudan and the mother dying of untreated AIDS in Kenya still need you. So do the U.S. soldier and the Fallujah schoolboy at risk of getting blown up in the chaos of the next street-level attack. The Indiana single mother who can't afford child care because her job pays below-poverty wages needs you.
So I know that least week's election returns make you feel like crap.
But I have a message to deliver that I hope will snap you out of your doldrums: They still need you.
Remember the immigrant held in a U.S. jail without charges and the Muslim woman whose Internet records are being secretly searched without a warrant? They need you as much today as they did last Monday.
The starving children in the Sudan and the mother dying of untreated AIDS in Kenya still need you. So do the U.S. soldier and the Fallujah schoolboy at risk of getting blown up in the chaos of the next street-level attack. The Indiana single mother who can't afford child care because her job pays below-poverty wages needs you. So does her son whose asthma is aggravated because of the toxic emissions from under-regulated industry.
These people can't afford for you to lay on the couch, cuss at Bill O'Reilly and check out the visa regulations for moving to Sweden. OK, the majority of the nation's voters supported George W. Bush last week. You disagree with those voters' conclusion. I do, too. But we have to remind ourselves that those voters want the same things we want. They want peace and prosperity. They think the president's policies will produce both.
We think they are wrong. So now we have to redouble our efforts at public education. We need to help those Bush voters recognize the dangers in alienating the U.S. from the international community, in eroding civil liberties and in pursuing an economic policy that enriches Dick Cheney while impoverishing his neighbor working at the Village Pantry.
We need to shout from the rooftops that the moral values so many of the Bush voters care about must include protecting the weakest among us, both in the U.S. and around the world.
People lead, leaders follow
Even though Bush won last week, we activists can still be effective. I've been around politics long enough to know that elected officials - by definition, professional popularity contest winners - always have one finger wet and up checking the direction of the wind of popular opinion. The people lead and the leaders follow.
Bush is no exception to the rule. When a groundswell started demanding that the U.S. should do something about the millions of people dying of AIDS in Africa, Bush proposed a huge increase in U.S. dollars for treatment. When the public reacted in revulsion to some of the post-Sept. 11 proposals for massive domestic spying, Bush pulled Patriot Act II and Operation TIPS off the table. He reacted to the demand that seniors get help with prescription drugs by proposing a flawed program, but he did react.
Recent U.S. history shows us how we must react to discouraging election returns. The labor movement, the civil rights movement and the effort to stop the Vietnam War all succeeded not because of the largesse or insight of "great men" in Congress or the White House. Change happened because the people got in the streets and demanded it.
If two-thirds of the American people start insisting that we have a sane foreign policy or that we back off on tax cuts for the rich, President Bush will do as we say. And if he doesn't do it, the Congress - GOP-controlled or not - will do it for him. These lawmakers simply do not possess the political courage to deny the will of the majority of voters.
So it is our job to educate, convince and cajole those Bush voters toward a more enlightened pursuit of their basic good instinct to care about the welfare of others. Remember, the labor movement, the civil rights movement and the peace movement were all once very unpopular. But the activists were unflagging, and the public's minds were opened. Eventually, justice prevailed.
There are many social justice organizations in the Indianapolis area working hard for peace, civil liberties, a clean environment and equal justice, the same causes that made you care so much about last week's election. If you are a member of those groups, rededicate yourself to the effort. If you're not a member, become one and get active.
Don't mourn. Organize.
Fran Quigley, former news editor for NUVO, is now executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, www.iclu.org.