A New Birth of Freedom

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I, said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us.” .

J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings)

Reading biographies and histories during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been struck again by how ordinary people’s actions affect the arc of history. Whether they went to the front lines of battle or protest, prepared meals or tended the sick, wrote letters or lobbied, planted Victory Gardens or registered voters, made bandages or masks, or organized neighborhoods–or on the other hand, closed their eyes to everything beyond their needs and wants–our forebears’ actions affected the world for good or ill.

Gandalf from Lord of the Rings

Now it is our turn to decide what to do with the time we have been given, to use it for good or ill. Will we speak and act for good? Will we do that which is uncomfortable or costly or boring or dangerous to help ensure that goodness, freedom, justice, and democracy win? Will we take time away from what we would ordinarily do and add our weight to the scales of justice and goodness? Or will we think our participation is so minor that it won’t make a difference if we let the moment pass?

I know. All of us wish we could live now as it were 2019: seeing friends and family, tending our gardens, volunteering as usual, and watching The Great British Baking Show. But it isn’t, and we can’t.

This Is Our Time

It is 2020, and millions of lives, the climate, a racial reckoning, and the future of American democracy are at stake. It is not overly dramatic to say that the November election is crucial to America’s survival as a free, democratic country. It is also crucial for controlling the coronavirus, saving lives, education, the economy, and dreams. It is crucial to saving the climate and healing the planet. Need I say it again? The American journey towards a more perfect union is on this year’s ballot.

With this in mind, President Abraham Lincoln’s words carry a new meaning for me this year. The fight of which I hear him speak is no longer on an American battlefield but at the ballot box and in the court.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1883

It is our turn to ensure that the American Experiment survives the forces that would destroy it from within and without. It is for us, the living, to protect and preserve in our time the freedoms for which our forebears “gave the full measure of devotion . . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Please join me in this effort by doing one or more of the following.

Decide What To Do With The Time That Is Given

  • Vote
  • Pledge to vote early and avoid long lines on Election Day. Tell five friends to do likewise.
  • Volunteer with Reclaim Our Vote (here) to ensure people of color in voter-suppression states are registered and know where to vote.
  • Be a poll worker if your Covid-19 risks are low. Poll workers are in short supply this year.
  • Host or join virtual house meetings for a candidate you support.
  • Make financial contributions to candidates, the NAACP, or the ACLU.
  • Contact your Board of Elections to clarify where you can vote this year and the dates of early voting.
  • Request an absentee ballot immediately (if requests are necessary for your state) if you plan to vote by mail. Tell five friends to do likewise.
  • Talk to friends, family, and acquaintances about what is at stake and enroll them in the effort.
  • Share this post with others.
  • Pray. And when you pray, move your feet.

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