United we must stand
"My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together."
With those words, President Barack Obama challenged the nation during his second inaugural address Jan. 21. It was also the day we celebrated the life and work of civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr.
The president's speech took firm stands on issues that can be very divisive. He spoke in favor of gun control, environmental measures to combat climate change, equal pay for women and equal rights for gay people. And in the midst of a speech that many will not agree with, he called for unity.
Why? How can unity be achieved when people disagree?
"Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life," the president said. "It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time. For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
The president seems to be calling for unity through compromise — for people on both sides of the political spectrum to seek common ground and work for the greater good.
On that theme, we certainly agree. The United States over the years has shown it can accomplish great things when people unite behind a cause. In times of division and polarization, the nation suffers inertia, an inability to move forward.
Sometimes, however, the greatest strides forward are made in times of conflict. That is the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who stood up to racism and segregation in his time, helped organize boycotts and protest marches. He was one of many who came together to stand against something we now all recognize was wrong.
When America saw fire hoses, clubs and dogs used against unarmed women, children and men engaged in freedom marches, sit-ins and other demonstrations, its conscience was stirred. Unity came slowly. It was long, hard work and many who engaged in that work, King included, died for the cause.
“A man who won't die for something is not fit to live,” he said.
The challenge the president brings us now is to work through the conflict in our time, to find unity and move forward. Can Congress and the president reach agreements for how best to tackle the economic crisis, the lack of jobs, the staggering cost of social services and the deficit that shows we are not living within our means? We know some politicians, our own Olympia Snowe among them, who have been frustrated by the division in the Capitol, division that was leading us in circles rather than forward.
The name-calling and squabbling on both sides of the aisle must give way to reason and teamwork. The shrillest voices in the public theater should probably be ignored as we move away from the extremes of left and right and meet in the center.
Not everyone agrees with Obama about everything, but we believe he can be respected as our president for another four years. He deserves respect because even when we don't agree with him, we believe he acts according to his convictions.
On the topic of unity as a nation, we have been disappointed with the response to the shocking violence in December when 26, most of them 6 and 7-year-old children, were shot and killed in Newtown, Conn. We had hoped, perhaps naively, the nation could unite around this issue.
Instead, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the sides returned to their corners and dug their trenches, putting more children at risk.
The president wants to respond to this crisis. "Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm," he said.
The answer to the school shooting issue, as with so many other issues the president talked about, cannot be to continue on the same course. We cannot say after Newtown that we are doing all that we can.
Something must change in this country.
After the inauguration, the president stopped to take a long look back at those who had come to see him. It was a touchingly human moment. We understood that need.
Just one look back, and then, please Mr. President, get to work.
This nation needs to move forward.
In honor of great words and great work
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction." — Martin Luther King Jr., 1963