Early last month, I hopped on a plane and took a quick trip to Naples, Fla., to speak to the Americans United chapter there.
During these difficult times, it’s important that people get together to share ideas, strategize and provide moral support. That’s what the event in Naples was designed for.
We know what we’re up against. The vital principle of separation of church and state is under attack in many ways by the Trump administration. I’m aware that people are feeling discouraged, but I also know that they’re just as eager to fight back. I sensed that in the room where I spoke.
I won’t pretend there’s an easy answer to the challenges we face. It’s going to take hard work. Some of what must be done is political in nature, and it’s already happening. You don’t have to look far to get a sense of the anger that’s building against this administration. We got a taste of that in November when voters in Virginia and New Jersey expressed their displeasure through the ballot box. (And last month in Alabama.)
Although Americans United, as a tax-exempt organization, isn’t permitted to intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates, we still have an important role to play. Our job is to channel the anger, disappointment and, yes, frustration that is out there and turn it into a productive force for change and activism. For those folks who are still on the fence or who aren’t yet convinced that they need to speak out, Americans United can become the catalyst that brings more people into the resistance.
When I speak to groups, I remind people that they have an ethical and moral obligation to act. The time will come when we will all be called to account for the actions of this administration. Those who supported it will have much to answer for, but the rest of us will have a different task – not to gloat, but to proudly say that we opposed it at every turn and then to begin the hard work of reunifying a nation that has been deliberately torn apart.
During my talks, I remind people that, while they are compelled to act, they shouldn’t feel they need to rush out and fix everything at once. Indeed, trying to do too much can be counterproductive. We all have lives we must tend to, and our jobs and family responsibilities can’t be overlooked. Some are limited by age or financial strictures.
Each person must decide his or her own comfort level for activism. Some may want to attend marches and demonstrations. Others may write letters to the editor. Some may share information through social media. Other might choose to register voters and contact legislators. For some people, offering financial support to Americans United may be the best way to get involved.
No matter what path you choose to take, I caution you not to fall into the trap of believing that if the president fails, America will also fail. The president is not America, especially this president. Indeed, after one year of this administration, I am convinced that for America to truly succeed, this administration must fail and that Americans of goodwill must use all legal means to reject it.
An administration based on homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, thinly veiled racism, hate, fear, jingoism and divisiveness doesn’t reflect what is great about our nation. In fact, it betrays our national values by pandering to what’s worst in some of us instead of seeking to elevate what’s best in all of us. An administration that mocks our core values, belittling them with catchphrases like “politically correct,” deserves to fail.
I find it helpful to project into the future. As bad as the current situation is, our nation will survive it – I think. Assuming that we come out of it strong and intact, imagine yourself 20 years from now being asked by a teenager what you did during the Trump years.
Your answer could be, “I was disappointed, so I disengaged” or “I was afraid, so I kept my head down.” But I know Americans United members too well to believe you will find those answers acceptable.
Sometimes a nation’s fundamental values are tested, and it’s necessary to choose a side. Many of us in the United States undoubtedly never thought we would come to this crisis point. Yet here we are.
Yes, these are trying times. But I am heartened to know that from Florida to California and everywhere in between, true patriots are rising up in resistance – and they have no intention of standing down.
Rob Boston is interim executive director-communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.