President's Perspective

The 2017 Wake-up Call

Denise Fairchild

What better message and resolve for the start of the 2017 new year! Call me old school, but I remember Wake Up Everybody as not only a great party (bop) song, but also a response to the undemocratic policies, programs and practices (including wiretapping -- old school cyber warfare) of the Nixon era 40 years ago. The song is as relevant today as it was then. It offers important lessons for today’s political landscape regarding: the nature of struggle, the need for resilience and the power of cultural expressions.

Wake up everybody no more sleepin' in bed
No more backward thinkin' time for thinkin' ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred war an' poverty
The world won't get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me
Wake up everybody
Get up, get up, get up, get up

Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, 1975

Wake up everybody no more sleepin' in bed — The last eight years lulled us into a state of pacifism. America’s progress and leadership these past eight years in areas of civil liberties, health care, the economy, climate change and foreign affairs have been profound and comforting. But they have dulled our sense of the political and social norm. How else do you explain the nation’s (and world’s) collective state of shock? It suggests that we lost sight that American democracy is imperfect, is a constant struggle and is never guaranteed.

A historical view of American democracy should make this clear. The American constitution and electoral processes have always been overlooked and manipulated when corporate and economic interests are at stake. It took 300+ years of legal, armed and humanitarian struggle embodied in the abolitionist movement to bequeath constitutional rights to enslaved Africans in 1863/65.

In less than 15 years, however, these freedoms were reversed with electoral maneuvers similar to the 2016 national elections. Specifically, in the Compromise of 1877 – a grand bargain to reassert white supremacy to make America Great Again – Democrats, the proslavery party of the time, despite winning the popular and electoral votes sold their victory to the Republicans – the party of Lincoln – in exchange for withdrawing federal troops from the south. This ended Reconstruction and sanctioned 100 years of state-sponsored Jim Crow laws, keeping blacks legally, if not physically, enslaved.

The lesson: the protection of civil liberties and human rights requires long-term struggle and ongoing vigilance. Accordingly, in 2017, ECC reaffirms its partnership with the Community Learning Partnership and national and local organizing networks to build a pipeline of community change agents to ensure an intergenerational and strategic approach to the threats to democracy.

The second lesson from our theme song focuses on resilience strategies. In the climate context, resilience refers to the capacity to absorb major disturbances and to bounce back from shock. This includes ways to mitigate, recover from and rebuild from disruptions. Similarly, how do we bounce back and move forward from our current state of political shock and upheaval?

Hint? We must resist: Get up, get up, get up, get up!!  No one can sit on the sidelines. It is incumbent upon each of us as individuals to engage: “The world won’t get no better if we just let it be….we gotta change it yeah, just you and me.” Armchair critics and pundits won’t cut it. We must put our convictions on the streets and in the public forum. We must be omnipresent and vociferous in our demands.

Moreover, resilience will require a communitarian ethic. The lyrics call out doctors, teachers and builders everywhere to build a new land for the sake of the most vulnerable – the children and the elderly. Accordingly, a go-forward strategy is one that goes beyond individual and/or group interests to advance the common good. We must help each other. Rather than fighting for the rights of the environment, worker rights or specific human rights – women, gays, Muslims or immigrants – we must find and advance a higher-order ethic that captures all of these interests. The power of collective action is the only way to be resilient against the politics of fear and division.

Communitarianism is also critical in the face of an administration determined to dismantle government and the political muscle to do it. Our efforts at Emerald Cities to build a new economy and clean-energy markets, to leverage the assets and capacities of community institutions to build resilient communities and to engage historically marginalized communities in community change work are more essential than ever when government abandons us. We need to coalesce to build a high-road economy and community safety nets for healing, for food, for energy, for self-reliance to thrive in the face of severe assaults.

The final inspiration and resilience strategy for me is to embrace the power of music and cultural expressions. Spirituals buoyed my ancestors through and past slavery. Freedom songs fueled the civil rights movement. Music gives voice to causes, assuages the burdens and bonds us together. So, let’s sing. Let’s put music at the center of our struggle. Let’s lift up our cultures and invest in our socially-conscious musicians, photographers, artists and poets. Let’s keep our cultural revolution (‘cause that’s what this is) vibrant and inclusive.

So join me in song. It is keeping my hope alive. It is inspiring me. It is reminding me that we have been here before. And like another one of my old favorites by McFadden and Whitehead, it is encouraging me to know:  

Ain't No Stoppin Us Now!
We're on the move!


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