01/06/2014 01:44 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2014

Wishful Thinking Won't Define 2014; Our Work Will

2014, the start of a fresh year. Everyone seems to hit the ground running with lofty resolutions and goals that most will unfortunately break before Dr. King's birthday. That is why we must pause and ask ourselves, what exactly will define this year? Instead of merely wishing, we must come to the realization that we have to put in work in order to see the change which we desire. This year in particular, we are at a crossroads. Will we see a shift in Congress? Will we elect individuals that represent our interests and fight on behalf of us? Will we see immigration reform? Will we see a preservation of affordable health care for all? These issues and more will be determined by how much actual, concrete work we ourselves put in. The days of wishful thinking and flowery rhetoric are long gone; what matters instead is how much effort we're willing to make and how we will turn a checklist into a reality. Time waits for no one.

In the fall, Americans will once again hit the voting booth. And the importance of the midterm elections cannot be understated. In 2010, we saw the rise of the Tea Party that effectively swept their candidates into office. Not only did they alter the balance of power in Congress, but by doing so, they helped determine the direction the country would move. It's incumbent upon all to look at the 2014 midterms and ask: which way will we proceed? Will the Tea Party outwork progressives? Will the left outwork the right? Who will rally their base and rally consistently to make their base get out and vote? Who will be disciplined and focused, rather than distracted and emotional? This year, more than other years, will outline the path of the next decade or two. In other words, the time for complacency is over, and the need for direct action is long overdue.

This past Saturday, I delivered my new year's sermon at National Action Network's (NAN) weekly rally. During my speech, I outlined NAN's agenda for 2014 which includes preserving and protecting voting rights, tackling economic inequality, dealing with high unemployment, building businesses within the community and re-energizing the battle around a criminal justice system that works for everyone. These are some of the key goals that NAN will proactively address head on by implementing concrete steps and a plan of action. Whether it's organizing on the ground in communities across the country, establishing voter education drives/registration, conducting job training programs, holding elected officials accountable, pushing for better schools or more, we will strategize and galvanize from coast-to-coast. The stakes are much too high, and the future of everything we hold dear hangs in the balance.

Every organization, group or individual must also come to the realization themselves that this is the year we determine whether or not we were able to rise to the occasion, or whether we just made wishes that never came to fruition. When issues like women's reproductive rights, unemployment benefits, marriage equality, economic fairness, education, immigration reform, a minimum wage increase and affordable health care are on the line, how can anyone think that making promises or a new year's resolution is enough? Who will sway public opinion in support of what they want? Who will make their concerns and their issues a reality, and who will just talk? What we do and don't do in 2014 will lay the foundation for subsequent years and for the direction that this nation will proceed.

In both 2008 and 2012, many registered, organized and voted in historic numbers. But something happened in 2010. A sort of inactivity took hold over many, and those with a clear agenda plotted a way by which they made their priorities everyone's priority. In 2014, we must do the same. Our work will define whether or not we met the challenge. Who will put pressure on Congress? Who will have their voices heard in Washington? And who will just remain on the sidelines complaining? The power is truly in our hands. But it's a matter of recognizing that power and then putting it to good use that counts. If we only sit back and criticize, no one will listen. It's when we galvanize, organize and have a plan of action that we see results. That's the only way change has ever been achieved, and that's the only way it will continue to take place.

Our actual work, not our new year's wishes will define 2014. Let's get started.