March 2024

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

A colleague recently brought to my attention a compelling, as well as disturbing, Instagram video. In it, author and journalist George M. Johnson (they/them) discusses the state of discouragement and despair that is felt by young, progressive voters across the country in this divisive election year and points out what many political commentators miss about this voting bloc: fear-based campaigns are not motivating these voters because, for too many, “death has become an option.” This is in reference to the way current political campaigns use fear to push voters to act, and that those strategies will not have the same effect a second time when hope has been removed from the political messaging and voters are already feeling disconnected and abandoned by their leaders on policies and actions.

2008 Obama Campaign Poster, HOPE

For me, I feel fortunate to have come of age during a time when there was a sense of optimism of what was possible through individual and collective action, even in the face of long-time struggles. I was inspired to march for civil rights, the end of the Vietnam War, and for women’s rights; and could not wait to be able to vote. I have long been involved in community organizations, especially those supporting women’s advancements as equals in politics and socio-economic opportunities, and witnessed some, if far from complete, advancements. These involvements are where I learned about the human rights framework that ultimately led to TWAICB, as I recognized the need to know about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as part of continuing to drive positive change.

2008 Obama Campaign Poster, HOPE

Younger generations have not had this same experience. Instead, they have only seen a growing economic and social divide, seemingly intractable, ugly political stalemates; regression in access to health care, control of our bodies, and security of employment, food, and shelter, against the backdrop of a warming planet. While there is no easy, quick way to reverse this seeming downward cycle, I believe we must regain a sense of perspective on how we got here, and how we can take hold and be part of the continuing efforts to reverse course, find hope, and move toward all that is possible.

2008 Obama Campaign Poster, HOPE

Recently, I watched Steven Levitsky speak about the threats to American Democracy, that have, as he points out, always been part of our political structure. Here is a link to Mr. Levitsky’s recent interview on WBUR’s Here and Now, discussing much of what I saw. What helped inspire me to not be completely overwhelmed by our current situation is Mr. Levitsky’s point that the United States is still in its experimental stages of being a multi-cultural democratically governed society, as partially noted here:

“Multiracial democracy is hard to achieve. Few societies have ever done it. A multiracial democracy is a political system with regular, free, and fair elections in which adult citizens of all ethnic groups possess the right to vote and basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association. It is not enough for these rights to exist on paper: individuals of all ethnic backgrounds must enjoy equal protection of democratic and civil rights under the law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act finally established a legal foundation for multiracial democracy in America. But even today, we have not fully achieved it.

I found this compelling article from 1860 presented by the American Historical Association about the American Experiment, taken especially by its introductory paragraph from the New-York Daily Tribune, November 27, 1860:

“The social, and especially the political institutions of the United States, have, for the whole of the current century, been the subject in Europe, not merely of curious speculation, but of the deepest interest. We have been regarded as engaged in trying a great experiment, involving not merely the future fate and welfare of this Western continent, but the hopes and prospects of the whole human race. Is it possible for a Government to be permanently maintained without privileged classes, without a standing army, and without either hereditary or self-appointed rulers? Is the democratic principle of equal rights, general suffrage, and government by a majority, capable of being carried into practical operation, and that, too, over a large extent of country?”

The article speaks of the buildup to the Civil War and describes some parallel political and economic forces to what we see today.

What can we do now to help encourage us all, but especially young people, to recognize that there have always been on-going struggles to achieve what the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and subsequent amendments have called for, for all of us? How can we see ourselves in as part of shaping this ongoing American experiment?

Here are some ideas:

  • Find ways that we can to bring people together face-to-face, even by Zoom or similar platforms, to share concerns and consider ways to take action, individually and collectively. We need to connect with each other. To quote activist Grace Lee Boggs, “movements are born out of critical connections, rather than critical mass.”
  • Recognizing how difficult navigating our social worlds can be, here are some resources for enhanced communications and gaining additional perspectives:
  • We can re-examine what it means to exercise our human right to participate in our government. To that end, here is a link to our Teaching Guide on the Right to Vote and Participate in One’s Government.
    • As we enter these upcoming months of political messaging leading to the 2024 election, we can more fully examine what each political party stands for, along with the background of all candidates from President to local office. Our teaching guide provides links to how to evaluate party platforms, which outline what a given candidate representing this party is supposed to stand for.
  • We need to encourage critical thinking among our friends and family, to look beyond commercials and social media commentary, to gain a deeper understanding of the likely economic, social and political opportunities we will all have as time goes on, based on what a given party stands for, including policies we see in place today. Here is a link to our Resources to Be Well Informed.
  • I recommend reviewing and sharing the work of Carol Dweck related to her book Mindset to gain insights about the growth mindset, where we learn that anything that matters to us requires effort, rather than giving up when faced with challenges.
  • Check out our 4 Questions At A Time Interview with Irwin Kula to gain some added perspective on how to stay committed to action, realizing how much time it might take to see results, perhaps beyond our own lifetimes.

Returning to the Instagram video, we must find ways to connect with each other and find hope and inspiration to engage socially and politically for the long haul. We are part of this continuing American experiment to bring about the multi-cultural, inclusive democracy called for since this country’s inception. While we still have the agency to help bring about the changes needed to realize the best of what is possible for this country, we ought to do what we can, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “in the smallest of places close to home.”

With appreciation and best regards,
Sandy Sohcot, Director

Using the UDHR to Guide Positve Action