This post first appeared on Dan Rather’s Facebook page.
Over the course of my life and career in journalism, I have heard the plaintive cries of the oppressed, seen the flickering fears in the eyes of those who have lost all hope and felt the deep chilling winds of despair. From battlefields to natural disasters to the poorest of slums, I have peered into the darkest recesses of the human condition. I have seen sights that still cause my mind to reel, scenes of heartbreak that can click into my consciousness without warning — like a record dropping in an old jukebox. There are so many touchstones that can plunge me to the brink of tears. In short, I have seen a lot. And yet, despite all I have seen and felt, I remain an optimist.
I know there is a deep and abiding fear and panic across a lot of the country. I know that there are some who wonder whether this land of opportunity will include a path for them and those who may look, pray or love like them. I know that our planet feels like it is under siege and the injustice, greed and irrationality are on the march.
I do not seek to minimize the challenges but I must caution that to be overwhelmed to the point of inaction is a sure path to the diminishment of the ideals of humility, justice and equity. For in my journeys I have seen, on too many occasions to count, those who have little power or place rise to push back against the forces of hate and discrimination.
We live in a proud, wealthy, diverse continental country. For most of us, our lives are easier, safer and more comfortable than the vast majority of people on Earth. We must begin by acknowledging that privilege. It is our duty to not lick our wounds or nurse our petty grievances but to rise to do our part to act.
Over recent weeks, as I have met many of you in airports, on the street or in public venues, you have asked some version of “What can I do?” There are no simple answers or silver bullets, but I would begin by saying you can start by doing something. Pick a worthy cause, like education, the environment, racial justice, and seek out where you can volunteer your time and energy. Start local, where face-to-face involvement can have a multiplying effect. Join your forces with family and friends to create a culture of encouragement. Now is a good time to make this part of a New Year’s resolution.
I leave you with a section of the Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s poem “Protest,” published in 1914, but still very relevant today.
To sin by silence when we should protest
makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law.
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare must speak and speak again,
To right the wrongs of many.