Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “the ultimate measure of a man (woman) is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he (she) stands at times of challenge and controversy.” We will in large part be measured by what we do during this upcoming term of Donald Trump occupying the White House.
Specifically, we must make sure that the progress and the rights achieved through sacrifice and hard work by previous generations are not only preserved, but advanced to the next generation. This is why we must kick off MLK Weekend the right way and march on January 14th in Washington, D.C, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, labor unions, religious leaders, and many others from across the country.
Dr. King knew that the drama created by marches and other forms of direct action was needed to put important issues on the agenda. It will be critical for the modern day civil rights movement to keep issues in the spotlight and increase the number of people who deem it important enough to push policymakers into action. This is why the sustained demonstrations across the country and the upcoming march are needed.
The election of Trump after a campaign characterized by open bigotry has energized and mobilized protesters in the last few weeks. This public vigilance and enthusiasm will need to be channeled and strategically directed in the coming months and years to resist attacks on civil rights and move forward needed reforms.
To be clear, the need to march and be vocal and visible is not to repudiate President-elect Trump, per se, but rather to forcefully articulate expectations and an unwavering commitment to moving forward rather than backwards. The message must be sent that this broad coalition will not just fall asleep after the inauguration but is prepared and ready for sustained engagement at the federal, state, and local levels.
It is important to show strong numbers and set the tone nationally for what we anticipate to be a long battle to preserve and build on the positive advancements of the Obama administration. Trump has articulated how he intends to govern, and at this early stage, his appointments have shown little deviation from what his stated intentions were on the campaign trail. Logically, we can fully expect an attempt to dispatch health coverage from the over 20 million people who attained insurance via the Affordable Care Act.
Sadly, we can expect an attempt by the Trump administration to institute a national stop and frisk policy. Stop and frisk policies have been shown to exacerbate racial profiling by disproportionately stopping Blacks and Hispanics. This dangerous predisposition of criminal intent threatens to exacerbate discord between law enforcement and the communities they serve, in addition to accelerating the racially disproportionate mass incarceration epidemic.
It is troubling that Trump seems to be putting together a cabinet and inner circle of extremists thus far. His nominee to be the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, represents a further gutting and redirection of funds from the schools that serve the overwhelming majority of low-income and minority students. This would be incredibly detrimental to many public school systems that have been ravaged by budget cuts. The idea of converting money that was previously targeted for schools with high numbers of children that come from low-income families to block grants where funds can be diverted away from the neediest schools is a step backwards.
We can expect for a Trump Justice Department to purposely refrain from enforcing key elements of Civil Rights Legislation. For example, likely Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions supported the Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 2013, and publicly stated that the VRA was “a piece of intrusive legislation”. Fourteen states have put up additional voting restrictions since 2013, and further efforts at voter suppression and gerrymandering, if left unchecked, are likely to accelerate in the future. The restoration of the VRA is crucial to people of all backgrounds having the ability to select the policymakers who decide the laws of the land and where resources are directed.
We should remember that President Obama took over an economy in 2009 that was losing 700,000 jobs a month. The end of October marked the 80th consecutive month of private sector job growth with 15.5 million jobs created during his tenure. However, we are now facing a potential redirection of that overall growth along with the reduction of levers like affirmative action that could help to close the unemployment gap between Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites.
There are also concerns over the lack of future progress or regression of progress that has been achieved in the areas of labor issues, religious freedom, immigration and housing. The march on January 14th spearheaded by the National Action Network will be the opening salvo in a fight that will require us to be able to organize quickly and utilize direct action, negotiation, and many other strategies aimed at moving forward rather than backwards.
The message must also be sent that President-elect Trump does not have a clear mandate from the voters, contrary to what he and his team members have been saying since the election. Empirically, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is Hillary Clinton now trouncing Trump in the popular vote by more than two million votes, but the Democrats also picked up a net of two Senate seats and six House seats. Clearly, there is no mandate from this election. This is a textbook example of a split decision.
To provide some context, consider the close presidential contests listed below that have occurred since 1960:
2000: Al Gore defeats George W.Bush by 543,895 votes, but loses the electoral college vote
1976: Jimmy Carter defeats Gerald Ford by 1,682,960 votes
1968: Richard Nixon defeats Hubert Humphey by 510,314 votes
1960: John F. Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon by 118,574 votes
Irrespective of the 2000 Gore split decision, the popular vote rout of more than two million votes by Clinton compared to Trump put into perspective he sheer statistical anomaly of the 2016 election. Therefore, it would be exceptionally prudent for the Trump administration to recognize their clear lack of a mandate, and to govern accordingly.
The coalition that will march on January 14th and others will have to carefully monitor members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, and make them fully accountable for every vote they cast. In this realm, there should be a steep political price to pay when rights are threatened through ill-suited legislation, especially in light of previous serious prices paid for these rights to be established.
This is the time to anticipate what is likely to come given early indications, and proactively organize around any indications of selective disenfranchisement, loss or rights, and unbalanced incentives. This is the time to bring all of our gifts and abilities to the collective community table. This is the time to be strategic and focus in on the substance of what is at stake given the pending Trump administration and Republican controlled House and Senate. We must carry the baton from those who came before us with strength and purpose. We must march on January 14th.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is a Political and Social Commentator