July 1, 2016
By Toni Conaway
Reading Steven Gimbel’s biography of Einstein, I was struck by his description of the “Culture Split” in Germany between the two world wars — a divide that led to the ascent of Hitler, the holocaust and the millions of deaths in WWII. Those who lauded God, Country, Militarism and Racism won the day. I couldn’t help but make the comparison to today, which only reinforced my personal sense of isolation from my surroundings and my fears for the future.
I strongly believe that these difficult times call for us to fall on the other side of this cultural divide. I hope that we can delve into the good aspects of our nature and be on the right side of history this time. Then we may stand for the following values:
- Thinking globally: respecting other nations and cultures, rejecting U.S. exceptionalism, supporting international organizations, recognizing our global interdependence.
- Respecting science: recognizing that climate change is the most serious threat to life as we know it, teaching science in the schools (evolution not creationism), supporting medical research with sufficient funding.
- Rejecting sexism and racism: supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, opposing government intervention in women’s health decisions (including a woman’s right to choose), addressing violence against women (internationally as well as nationally), recognizing gender inequality, accepting the prevalence and importance of racism in US history, working to end police brutality against blacks, supporting minorities in organizations like Black Lives Matter.
- Respecting separation of church and state: speaking out against the blatant use of religion in politics, respecting secular humanism, rejecting superstition, rejecting religious fundamentalism in all faiths.
- Addressing violence in our society: starting with the recognition that we are a violent society, speaking out against violence on TV and in the media, opposing the National Rifle Association and working for strong gun legislation, ending police brutality, using violence as a last resort (including internationally), decreasing arms sales globally (we are the largest arms dealer in the world), decreasing the defense budget (which doesn’t reflect the real costs of our military spending, which is greater than that of the next ten countries combined).
- Working for economic justice: working to expand the middle class, taxing the ultra rich (.01% own 80% of our wealth) at a higher rate, enacting a high minimum wage, making it more difficult for corporations to use overseas tax havens, regulating corporations which put profits over people (endangering public health with poisoned air and water, including dangers of climate change — Exxon knew of climate change dangers over thirty years ago but suppressed their findings), ending Citizens United so the wealthy few can’t dominate campaign funding, pursuing Wall Street traders for their part in the 2008 economic collapse and beyond (only one has spent any time in jail).
- Challenging the media to be more responsible: rejecting channels and correspondents who play to our baser instincts (feed our prejudices, lying to us without accountability), finding people whom you can respect and listening to them (this is often found in alternative sources).
In summary, I believe we must be educated citizens who think independently and question many of our institutions and leaders. We must especially reject demagogues who play to our worst fears and prejudices. If there is any sign of hope, I find it in the young people who are looking to the future, not the past. Many of them are committed to peace, global citizenship, science, humanism, equality and economic justice. This commitment entails a strong rejection of the political and religious views of the right wing in the US today, something that didn’t happen in Germany. By the time German people realized what their “God and Country” beliefs led to, it was too late.
I will do what I can in the next four months to see that our country falls on the right side of history — making decisions that I believe will lead to a much better future for all the world’s children.
I hesitate to say these things to the readers of the NewPeople, since the Thomas Merton Center has been in the forefront of action taken on all these issues for more than two decades. They have provided leadership in its scores of individuals and organizations, and I don’t have enough words to express my admiration and respect for their energy and dedication to being on the right side of history.
Toni Conaway is a long time peace activist, one of the founders of Peace Links, and most recently involved with the issue of climate change.