Democracy Is a Promise We Renew Every Day

January 8, 2021Barbara Weinstein

This has been a deeply painful week. Wednesday’s violence in Washington, D.C. and in cities nationwide caused by rioters inspired and encouraged by the president’s lies was shocking. It was not, of course, surprising, given the concerted effort by the President and his allies to undermine the election results. And the fact that the largely white rioters were treated more gently by law enforcement than were this summer’s Black Lives Matter peaceful protestors was similarly unsurprising. But security appeared tight, and it was stunning to see the Capitol building overrun so easily.

Before I came to the RAC, I worked for several years in the U.S. House of Representatives. When I needed some inspiration, I would walk into the Capitol rotunda and sit on one of the stone benches that ring the space. I would look up at the dome with its beautiful fresco of George Washington ascending to heaven. And I would admire the sculpture of the suffragettes and the paintings of moments in American history that I’d first seen in my elementary school history books. But amidst the marble floors and gold leaf, what I loved best was watching the awe with which visitors to the Capitol – VIPs and kids alike – would treat a place that symbolizes the promise of our democracy. 

Democracy is, indeed, a promise we renew not just on election day, but every day. Democracy does not exist independent of our contributions to it. Citizens and immigrants, voters, and presidents – all of us build democracy. I imagine that is why the incredible movement-wide participation in the civic engagement campaign allowed us to reach more than half a million voters. We all want to help fulfill the promise of our nation.

When we bring thousands of L’Taken teens to the Capitol every year, we teach them that there is a place for them in the halls of congress to help repair what’s broken in our world. That same principle is why you join us for meetings with members and staff during post-Consultation lobby days. But yesterday’s insurrectionists rampaging through the Capitol building did not come to repair. They came to break: desks and signs and our democracy itself.

How strange that a day of such white supremacist violence also saw Georgia voters elect their first Black senator. I took some comfort in this tweet from Stacey Abrams, our partner at Fair Fight Action:

“While today’s terrible display of terror and meanness shakes us, let’s remember: Jon Ossoff, Jewish son of an immigrant & Reverend Warnock, first Black Senator from Georgia, will join a Catholic POTUS & the first woman, Black + Indian VP in our nation’s capital. God bless America.”

Our democracy has been weakened and is being tested in ways we have never seen before. Our work is to repair it by continuing to build relationships in our congregations, communities, statewide, and nationally. It will take time. We have the promise of a new year, a new administration, and a new congress. And our work together will be more important than ever.

Watch a recording of our event “Healing, Hope, Action: A Reform Movement Shabbat Gathering.” 

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