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If you look at the news, scroll through social media, or even just talk to a neighbor, you’ve likely noticed a consistent, coordinated assault on the foundational norms of our society. It has permeated our politics, our news and our social fabric in a way that’s become difficult to ignore. President Trump’s election unleashed a wave of bigotry that wasn’t new in American culture—it’s as old as slavery and Jim Crow, but it’s been reignited with a hatred toward immigrants, people of color, Muslims and a complete “otherization” meant to divide us and threaten our stability and security.
Just recently, the president took to Twitter to rail against prominent black politicians and leaders, denigrating their hometowns and the people who live there in a blatantly racist and callous show of his lack of moral courage. But Trump’s attacks don’t end there. His economic agenda has widened the gap between the rich and the rest of us. Today, the 400 richest Americans, less than one-fourth of 1 percent, have more wealth than the bottom 60 percent of people in our country. He and his secretary of education sought $9 billion in cuts to public education, while 21 states are still spending less on education than they were before the recession.
The teacher uprisings of the last two years have laid bare the frustration over the inequality and disinvestment that this administration perpetuates—the insufficient resources, deplorable facilities, and inadequate pay and benefits for educators. Teachers rose up in all 55 counties in West Virginia after not having had a raise in five years, with soaring health insurance costs giving them an effective pay cut every year. Teachers rose up in Los Angeles, joined by parents and students to demand smaller class sizes; less testing; and more art, music, counselors, nurses and librarians.
Such direct action is on display in Puerto Rico, as well, where hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests day after day, until Gov. Ricardo Rossello was forced to resign. The firestorm over #RickyLeaks, the offensive texts shared between Rossello and his top aides, was preceded by the administration’s failure to use federal recovery money to fund and restore public schools, the negligent closing of 430 public schools in order to start charter schools, and allegations of serious corruption. Our affiliate, the Asociacion de Maestros de Puerto Rico, was at the center of the successful democratic uprisings demanding “basta!”
With so many attacks on civility, vital institutions and democracy itself, it can be easy to lose heart. But as these successful actions show, despair is not a strategy. Because at the end of the day, people want a better life, a voice at work and in our democracy. There is a path forward to a country that is safe, welcoming and sane, and that shuns cruelty in favor of decency. We have followed that path in Los Angeles, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. We have followed that path in women’s marches and the anti-gun violence March for Our Lives. We even see the power of collective action taking shape worldwide—with direct action of immense proportions in Hong Kong, where thousands are fighting for a democratic voice. And what we see is that we can accomplish together what is impossible to accomplish alone.
Our democratic society rests on a social contract between citizens and our government. In return for our consent to a democratic government, to paying taxes and obeying laws, government leaders have a responsibility to protect our rights and promote the common good. When our elected leaders fail, whether by not adequately funding public schools and services or by dividing people they should be uniting, they strike at the very heart of what makes us a democratic republic. And with a strike at our heart, we have to take a stand. At the polls and at protests, in the streets and in our statehouses—the actions we take will shape the country we live in, and the future of our democracies depend on our solidarity.