When Things Feel Dire, Remember Real Change Begins at the Grassroots Level

Right now feels like a challenging time to be an American fighting for equality, fighting for justice. We have COVID-19, an economic crisis, and the violence against Black Americans and anti-Blackness in the foreground. But we also have people across the nation rising up to say, in the words of Ella Baker, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

This is our moment to make sure we do what we can, where we are, with what we have.

We don’t have to do it all. There’s a saying that goes, “many hands make light work.” We’re asking for many hands across this country to buy in together and do the work that we know is necessary to take this representative democracy to the next level.

Along the way, we’re going to win some and we’re going to lose some, but ultimately, justice is going to win out the day. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Just look at our history: the civil rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the fight for economic justice, the environmental movement and the Green New Deal, Black Lives Matter, and so many more. Any great movement that transformed this nation socially, politically, transformed it at the grassroots level, because everyday people did extraordinary things.

We are in that moment right now. If you are fighting to change the conditions of the working poor, the barely middle class, the downtrodden, the dispossessed — if you are on the hell-raising humanitarian side like I am — sometimes it seems as though we’re not winning, but we are.

Just one example: I am on the advisory council of American Promise, and we are uniting Americans behind an amendment to the United States Constitution to rebalance the gross inequity in representation and political participation caused by our election system being controlled by the runaway big money of the few. With the amendment, elections will be about the best ideas and the best candidates, the needs of the people, and not about who has the biggest wallets. Recently, one of our volunteers wrote to say that they were reaching out to their elected officials, but they were feeling discouraged about the state of our country.

I want to say to that person and to all people: When we’re fighting for big things, impactful things, we’re going to have our valley moments. We are going to win — but we are going to have moments where it does not feel like we are winning, moments where it does not look like we are winning, and moments where we might indeed not be winning in certain parts of this country.

But make no mistake about it, this justice journey that we are on is one in which every single generation of Americans has had a role to play. Our role is right here, right now.

Know that it’s going to take a lot of fight and a lot of faith, a lot of sweat equity and a lot of understanding, and that sometimes we feel down and out — but we are not down and out forever. We are setting the play for the victory. The victory will ultimately be ours, but we have to demand it.

Do not be afraid to demand of elected officials the action you want to see and the causes you want them to champion, because this can happen. We who believe in freedom cannot rest.

I’ll close with a quote from one of my ministers here in the great city of Cleveland, Otis Moss Jr. He said this to me when I was in a moment of uncertainty, because I, too, as a leader have my moments where I doubt and I say, “Oh my God, why are we continuing to fight these same battles? Jesus Christ, I cannot believe we’re right back where we started.”

Pastor Moss Jr. said these words to me, and I want to leave these with you. He said, “Senator, the struggle is forever, so we are forever in the struggle.” It never ends. For every hurdle we jump, there’s always going to be another and another and another. There’s always going to be some justice battle that needs us on the field.

So the struggle is forever and we are forever in the struggle. Let’s continue to fight for what is just, for what is right and for what is good.