Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The Arc of History Continues to Bend Towards Justice

Posted on Posted in Politics


With the Supreme Court’s five-to-four ruling today in favor of legalizing gay marriage in all fifty states the fight for marriage equality is now over. Justice has prevailed. And in an even more rapid and stunning reversal confederate flag will no longer be flown on state or federal property.
In the wake of these stunning developments I think it is so important that we take time honor the activists that have worked for years, and in many cases decades, on these issues. And also to remember the victims of hatred, intolerance, and violence. It seems unlikely that we would have seen the change regarding the confederate flag without the recent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson as part of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Every person who participated in those protests and that movement should be proud and should be aware that they were a part of the recent success.
All to often there is cynicism regarding the role of activism and social change. Every act of political activism contributes to the process of social change. Social change happens slowly but it happens because of political activism. It happens because people stand up for what they believe in. In the beginning it is just a small minority of people. It may even just be a handful of people who speak out against what they perceive as injustice. And eventually more and more people come to agree that something is wrong. And eventually enough people believe something to make it a law. Change is slow and usually happens on a generational scale but make no mistake about it: change happens political activism.
However despite the incredible progress, which absolutely should be celebrated we also took one step back in the past week when the congress fast-tracked the TPP trade bill. But now is not the time to be cynical. For the first time in recent history we have the chance to elect a truly progressive candidate to be the president of the United States: Bernie Sanders. And just as the horrendous crimes that sparked the black lives matter movement were catalysts for positive change the fast-tracking of the TPP may end up leading to election of Bernie Sanders.
But even if Bernie Sanders doesn’t win the democratic nomination or doesn’t win the general election, although I do think Sanders will win both, the arc of history will continue to bend towards justice. The existence of his campaign and the amount of support he has already generated is history and part of a larger process. And the success he has has so far is already progress towards social justice. It is a continuation of the arc of history’s bending towards justice.
Here is President Obama’s speech after the legalization of same sex marriage:

“Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal. The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times — a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American.

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.

This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality. In doing so, they have reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law; that all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.

This decision will end the patchwork system we currently have. It will end the uncertainty hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples face from not knowing whether they’re marriage, legitimate in the eyes of one state, will remain if they decide to move or even visit another.

This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land.

In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. It is gratifying to see that principle enshrined into law by this decision.

This ruling is a victory for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs in the case. It’s a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other. It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades working and praying for change to come.
And this ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free.

My administration has been guided by that idea. It’s why we stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and why we were pleased when the court finally struck down the central provision of that discriminatory law. It’s why we ended, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

From extending full marital benefits to federal employees and their spouses to expanding hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones, we’ve made real progress in advancing equality for LGBT Americans in ways that were unimaginable not too long ago.

I know a change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long. But compared to so many other issues, America’s shift has been so quick.

I know that Americans of good will continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition, in some cases, has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs. All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact and recognize different viewpoints, revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.

But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shift in hearts and minds is possible. And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them, because for all of our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone. That’s always been our story.

We are big and vast and diverse, a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories but bound by the shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.

We are people who believe every child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.

That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, talked to parents, parents who loved their children no matter what, folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were.

And slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.

What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; what a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world.

Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud.

Thank you.”

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