By BEN JEALOUS
People For the American Way
“In everything give thanks.” That Bible verse can be hard to put into practice. Just by being alive we can be sure of having moments of sadness as well as happiness. When you’re active in politics, you experience both wins and losses. Sometimes it can be hard to feel grateful.
That might be true for a lot of people this year. COVID-19 has brought painful losses to thousands of families. The unfairness of our health and justice systems has been laid bare. At the start of the year, we saw shocking violence during the Capitol insurrection.
And as we near the end of the year, we are still seeing our former president and many of his supporters lie about that violence – and about last year’s election.
And it is deeply discouraging to see how many political leaders are willing to spread false information. It is enraging how many are willing to inflame racism and resentment to win elections.
Still, even though we live with the persistent injustice, I believe the old saying “count your blessings” is good advice anytime – and especially at Thanksgiving.
I am grateful for my family, friends and co-workers. I am grateful to be in good health. I am grateful for scientists who developed COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that are protecting the people I love and making it possible for us to spend time together.
I am grateful that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are our president and vice president. I am grateful to activists and voters in Georgia who barely got to take a breath after the presidential election, and who kept at it until they put Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the U.S. Senate.
I am grateful that President Biden has taken seriously the responsibility to nominate federal judges who believe in the “for all” part of “liberty and justice for all.” I am grateful that Democratic senators have moved quickly to confirm the most personally and professionally diverse group of judges in our history. This is an important first step in limiting the damage being done by former President Donald Trump’s right-wing judges.
I am grateful that Congress passed and President Biden signed a major infrastructure bill. I am grateful that it will create good jobs, make needed repairs to roads and bridges, and help make affordable access to the internet available to more people across the country.
I am grateful to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for appointing a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on our democracy. I am grateful that the Department of Justice has supported the committee’s work by indicting former Trump aide Steve Bannon for refusing a congressional subpoena to testify.
And I am truly grateful for a growing voting rights movement that is bringing people together to demand that the White House and congressional leaders do what it takes to pass voting rights legislation this year.
Over the past few months, voting rights activists have repeatedly gathered outside the White House. We have called on Biden to make passage of federal voting rights legislation an urgent priority. Many of us have been arrested.
I am grateful that I can stand with organizational and religious leaders and brothers and sisters from the labor and environmental and women’s rights and D.C. statehood movements in recognition of our common purpose – and the common threat we all face from new voter suppression laws.
I am also deeply grateful for the inspiring group of young people who are rising into leadership of this generation’s civil rights and voting rights movement. Among those who were arrested in the cause of voting rights this month were Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter and my own daughter. Their activism has been touching and inspiring.
I could go on. One of the benefits of counting your blessings is that once you get started you keep thinking of new things. If you are feeling blessed right now, I rejoice with you. If you are feeling stressed, I feel for you.
Wherever you are on your journey, I hope that Thanksgiving gives you an opportunity to take a breath, take stock and make a new or renewed commitment to being involved in the hard but rewarding work of bending the arc of the moral universe a little bit more in the direction of justice.
Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation, has served as a coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was the youngest person to be elected as president and CEO of the NAACP. He was a Rhodes scholar at Columbia University and Oxford and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.