Good people must stand up and respond to divisiveness

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

Another election has come and gone. Locally, election workers are still tallying ballots in a number of close races. Nationally, our country is preparing for a new president to take office.

The future feels uncertain for many, as it naturally should following an election with such a sea-changing and unexpected outcome.

But there are some things that are certain that I wanted to outline today.

First, at the heart of many of our polarizing national issues is a sense of fear and anger that we are living in a time when working Americans are left behind when it comes to sharing in the country’s economic growth. Too many struggle to make ends meet and to support our families, while those at the top continue to see their wealth grow exponentially.

This is an issue labor unions have been fighting to correct for decades — both through day-to-day efforts in individual workplaces and by advocating more broadly to level the playing field for workers and overcome injustices in our economy. It’s an issue that drove many people to vote, and also undermined their faith in what they came to believe is a rigged system. It’s an issue we can’t forget, or dismiss, or minimize.

Secondly, this election has exposed deep, underlying divisions in the thoughts and beliefs of Americans. When any of us feel left behind, or not heard or misunderstood, it can be easier to turn on each other than to stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of adversity. It’s easier to blame and dehumanize the “other” rather than work together to build a shared understanding and vision for the future.

These divisions are not new to our nation’s short history. But they’re being reignited publicly in our communities in ways many of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. In schools and homes everywhere, children are picking up cues from the divisive election rhetoric and policy proposals, developing their own world views based on how their parents and neighbors and community leaders respond to these fears.

We can’t control whether President Trump will seek to unify the country or decide to exploit our divisions.

But we can control how we respond in either instance.

The labor movement has always been a force for fairness and humanity in the face of divisiveness. Whether it was standing on the front lines during the Civil Rights movement, or blocking the exploitation of children in the fields and factories, unions have invested sweat and resources in pursuit of fairness and justice, for a world that believes in the dignity of every person.

The aftermath of this election will be no different.

When people in our communities are attacked because of who they are, who they love or what they believe, we will stand with them. We will stand together for economic policies that give working people a seat at the table so that every American has a fair opportunity to make a decent living for themselves and their families, from the rust belt workers who voted for President Trump to the hotel workers who didn’t. If an American is willing to work hard, he or she should be able to do just that and build a better life for their children.

Pursuing love doesn’t mean being passive, rather “justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” As a nation we need to commit ourselves to four years of Dr. Martin Luther King’s prescription of light and love.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: November 25, 2016