Friday, November 11, 2016

Forward Together

When I was 12 years old, I was scared about some of the things going on in my state. I went to a Moral Monday event. I've been to many others since then. It was there I first met Rev. Dr. William Barber and it was he who first showed me how to fight.

Yes, this is a sermon and no, I am not religious, but listen to these words. The work we are about to undertake is going to require us to not allow things like our religion, our class, our gender, our political party, or any other label to divide those of us who are serious about the work we are called to undertake. Take some time when you can, listen to these words, and ask yourself where you fit into this message. 

I know a lot of people are scared right now. Many are angry. I share those feelings with you. But we can't allow those feelings to overcome us and allow them to paralyze us into inaction. It is inaction that got us here in the first place. We also cannot allow these feelings to influence wrong actions.

Make no mistake, the fights we may very well be facing soon will not be easy and results will not be quick. But we can make a difference. 

So let me get back to Moral Monday and the Forward Together Movement for a moment. A lot of people might be tempted to see our gatherings as protests, but they are so much more. These are opportunities to organize around issues. Representatives of organizations and people directly impacted by legislation speak to inform. We have teach-ins where people gather in small groups to share ideas on taking action. We meet new people and network with each other. We contact our legislators. We practice peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience when our legislators, the people who are elected to represent us, refuse to listen to us and communicate with us. We mobilize people to vote. We can follow this model now, nationwide.

When it comes to my state legislature, Senate, and House of Representatives, I know how to watch them in session and when I can't watch, I know who to follow to get updates on issues. I know how to look up bills and find out who voted how and what districts those people represent.

I see a lot of people talking about elections in two years or in four years. We have elections next year. What and who is going to be on the ballot in that election in your area? Where is justice going to be on the ballot next November in your area? What is happening in your area to get justice on the ballot? What is happening in your area to allow and encourage as many people as possible to vote for justice on the ballot?

What we need to do now is organize and take action. We need to focus on issues. We need to hold our lawmakers accountable and tell them what we expect. The time for excuses as to why we can't do this is over. There is a difference between I can't and I don't want to. There is a difference between I don't know how and I'd rather stay in my comfort zone where things are easy. There is a difference between I don't have time and I'd rather spend my time doing something else.

Instead of arguing with people, gather with those people who share your vision and mobilize. Sharing productive things on social media is great to find more people to gather with you, but also share your feelings and ideas with legislators. Call them. Email them. Show up at their offices. Find organizations that work for social justice and work to help vulnerable populations, join them, and get to work.

We need to tell our legislators what we expect and give them the opportunity to do right. Even if they have done wrong in the past, we need to allow them the opportunity to hear us and change and do right. When they do wrong, they need to hear from us, every single time. 

When I was 12, I saw my state legislature remove pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds in a voting reform bill. This was wrong. I spoke out and communicated with legislators. I tried to meet with my Governor. I did not shut up. I kept speaking out. Other people saw me speaking out and decided to speak out too. The issue was brought into Federal Court along with other parts of the voting reform bill. Parts of that bill were struck down by the court and pre-registration was returned. On election day, my state elected a new Governor. That was a three year fight. That was a victory for teenagers who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. That was a victory for the state and the country as a whole encouraging more people to participate in democracy. That was a victory for justice.

When we organize, when we show up, when we have each other's backs, when we keep our eyes on the prize, when we don't get distracted by those who want to work against us, the victories will come. They will not come easy. They will not come fast. They will not come all at once, but they will come.

We need to be the change we want to see. We need to take the moral high ground when they don't. If we want them to change their behavior, we have to change ours. There will be people from across the political spectrum who will stand up with us. Not all people will join with us in all areas, but we have to go issue by issue, forming coalitions of support and working. Now is not the time to focus on red or blue, liberal or conservative. Now is the time to focus on right and wrong.

We have to be brave and stand up boldly with the courage of our convictions.We must try to do this in every area of our lives. At work, at school, at home, in our relationships. We must stand for those who are weak. We must stand for those who are persecuted. We must stand for those who are in danger. We do not ask for justice, we demand it. We demand it with our words and with our actions, but most importantly with our actions.

Who will stand up with me today and lead? I'm not giving up. Forward together, not one step back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I was brought up to respect the office of President of the United States. As a voting rights activist, I deeply respect and revere the opportunity we have as Americans, that has come as a result of great service and sacrifice, to exercise our most sacred civic duty and choose who represents us in government. I congratulate you on being elected to the highest office in our nation.

In your election night speech, you said, “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so we can unify our great country.”

I did not support you in this election. Today, I am taking you at your word.

A transgender teenager I’m connected to on social media committed suicide at 4 AM Wednesday morning. One of my best friends went to school on Wednesday where other students were walking up to one of his Muslim classmates saying they hope he gets deported. I got another message from another friend saying that a boy grabbed a fellow student’s crotch while other boys laughed and shouted, “Make America great again.” Many kids and teenagers are very scared right now all over America, and many of their parents are scared for them. I myself am scared for my safety and my future.

While I do respect the office of President of the United States, I do not respect positions and attitudes that are violent, sexist, racist, bigoted toward the LGBTQ+ community, or discriminatory based on religion or national origin. The actions some people have chosen that result from these positions and attitudes are unacceptable and have no place in a great America. On this, I hope we can agree.

I would like to offer you some guidance and help today in unifying our great country, sir. I would like to invite you to join with me in offering the leadership our nation needs right now. This starts with denouncing, very vocally and prominently, the positions and attitudes that threaten the equality, well-being, security, and lives of our fellow citizens, especially our children and teenagers.

I know firsthand that the political world is tough. I know how hard it is to personally struggle through feelings and attitudes that aren’t in the best interest of our country or its people. I know that saying what you know will be attention-getting or well-received by your audience is easy, but digging down after deep reflection of what’s right is much harder. The past several hours have been incredibly hard for me. My audience would probably much rather read some very different words from me right now. But my country needs me now, and sir, it needs you too.

I would also like to let you, and anyone reading this, to know that it is in large part because of Hillary Clinton I am able to look forward today. It is because of her leadership and what I’ve learned while working on this campaign that I am able to put my country first today. I hope that, in your desire to unify our country, you can look past the ways in which you might differ with Secretary Clinton on policy and look to some of her outstanding examples of inclusive leadership that have, and continue to, offer hope to millions of us.

I am not religious, but I believe in forgiveness and redemption. I believe that people have the ability to change. I believe now that the time for campaigning is over and the time for governing nears, you can look at some of the rhetoric that has led to my friends reaching out to me in fear, anger, and despair and reflect on the kind of leadership these young people need from you right now. Your silence and failure to act in the face of this turmoil is complicity.

I promise you this. Moving forward, I will do my best to focus on the words you use and actions you take from this day forth and not dwell on the words and actions of the past. I promise to help my President and First Lady in any efforts to encourage our young people to actively participate in our democracy in positive ways. I’m sure there will be times when we do not agree on policy, but it is my hope that we move through the next four years agreeing on what constitutes common decency and the importance of providing positive leadership for our young people. I also promise you that I will do my duty as a citizen to continue to speak up for the young people of this country and fight for their freedom, equality, and opportunities and I will hold my lawmakers accountable for their words and actions. In the times my lawmakers fail to step up, I will stand up.

The sun has come up in the morning. Whether the view out of our windows is a shining city on a hill or the burning rubble of destruction is up to both of us, I think. You reached out for help. I am willing to help. I choose this thing not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Forward Together,

Madison Kimrey