“But dignity is also corroded by poverty no matter how poetically we invest the humble with simple graces and charm. No worker can maintain his morale or sustain his spirit if in the market place his capacities are declared to be worthless to society.” ā€• Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

“Do you feel depressed? Am I the only one?” I hear this conversation in many circles, and it is happening enough that it is time to write about it and expand the dialogue. Humans weren’t designed always to deal with the essential questions alone. A year has passed. About this time last year, we started to discover that our lives and those of our loved ones would be forever altered by an impartial and relentless pandemic. We are struggling with the loss of loved ones, staying-in-place, wrestling with jobs, paying the bills, school schedules, restless kids, civil unrest, and nowhere to run. And at times…it feels like things are getting meaner than ever.

While many of us are grateful at the dawn of new leadership in Washington, we are watching the scene of political leaders who are so disconnected from our situation and hell-bent on their own survival, they forget about ours. We read about billionaires quibbling over frivolous lawsuits throwing out millions that could be used in ten thousand other ways to ease someone’s pain. Wanting so dearly to help move the country forward only to find friends caught up in conspiracies, and they think we are delusional and too trusting. How do we find a starting point to begin to fix this? How can we have dialogues about the things that matter when we continuously have to agree to disagree? Where do we go from here?

When confronted with current challenges, I often look back and ask, have we been here before? If so, are there keys to help us find a path or way forward out of the storm? What can we do to heal our country when the foes are some of our own citizens? What is at the heart of their unrest? Why do some look to false narratives, and how do we know the truth? How do we hold them accountable and at the same time address the issues involved? Is this the new normal?

One big area I think we as a nation have to address is the growing economic disparity. More people are out of work today, and many small businesses struggle to stay afloat due to the pandemic. Did you know that small businesses make up over 44% of U.S. economic activity and create more new hires, innovation, and competition than any other business sector?* Their survival is tied with our own. They need support beyond lip service.  

It is also time for a liveable wage so that an honest day’s work equates to a fair day’s wages. I know there are arguments that try to say this will kill business, but is that the truth or just what we keep telling ourselves? We have to address the tax code and the system that allows the wealth to be concentrated at the top. That is not what makes a great nation. It is what makes an oligarchy and an autocracy. Early on in politics, I was told “follow the money,” and I think it’s the case for this as well. We have to follow the money and make sure it’s giving everyone an equal opportunity to live a life and take care of those they love. That’s not called socialism. It’s called the American middle class, and we used to have one. It is about the Civil Grace of Integrity and realizing there has to be a reconciling on where we spend our money and how we help people build a better life in this nation.

Creating a civil society means being aware of the needs of all the members. We can’t continue to expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have boots or if the system isn’t equal. While not all our issues are solved by economics, many of them will be. I looked into the situations of some of the people who rioted the Capitol earlier this month and found out while some of them had more than enough money, many more are struggling. They have bought into lies and conspiracies, trying to make sense of their own problems. They hear someone promising to take away their pain, and he became their savior so much that they risked their lives attacking the very democracy that gives them their freedoms. They felt they had nothing to lose. This is a sad reality, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. We have been here before.

In Joe Scarborough’s book on Harry Truman, Saving Freedom, there is a quote from Truman’s address to Congress in 1947 that feels relevant to this situation. In post-war Europe and the Middle East, many nation-states were on the brink of disaster. They had been beaten up and had no way to dig themselves out. The Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine were strategies that America implemented to help our allies. We eased their financial burdens by giving support through many ways so they could rebuild. These were Truman’s words:

The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.

People want to control their destiny and live a life to provide for themselves and their loved ones. That is the core of the American Dream. We want a place to live and a decent income for our labors. Imagine if we could redirect the money we spend on creating chaos, cronyism, and war and used it to educate, build infrastructure, invest in our communities, promote equality, and improve healthcare for everyone. These aren’t radical ideas, they are human ideals, and we need to remember them.

And here is a note to our elected leaders: While we have long been told not to ask what America can do for us but what we can do, America is tired of the fighting, and guess what? We showed up in record numbers to stand up for our democracy. Isn’t it time for both parties to set aside their differences and strive to be an example? Isn’t it about is time to let go of personal ambition, to start working together, and to begin again to rebuild our nation? It is time to stop worrying about who gets the credit and just do the work, knowing when the water rises, all boats float up. A movement like that would change the world and the lives of all of us. There will always be a few dissenters, but let’s get started with those who are tired of the games and gridlock. 

We have to get our country back on track. Back to school and work, back to exploring our opportunities, and back to each other. The depression comes when we lose hope. It is up to every one of us, including those sent to represent us, to take our roles seriously. Words don’t help when they fall on deaf ears, so I hope these words ring true. America’s shadow side is crushing our spirits and creating despair. It’s time to stop bickering, turn on the lights, and get to work. Together.

*According to the U.S. Small Business Administration

Photo credit: Vince Moro, a Reading 100 Machine we found in France–it was sent from Reading, PA to help rebuild the economy after World War II in France.

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