I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!”
What old men know is that everything can change. Langston Hughes wrote these lines when I was 8 years old, in the very different America of 1935.
It was an America where the life of a black person didn’t count for much. Where women were still second-class citizens, where Jews and other ethnic whites were looked on with suspicion, and immigrants were kept out almost completely unless they came from certain approved countries in Northern Europe. Where gay people dared not speak the name of their love, and where “passing” — as white, as a WASP, as heterosexual, as something, anything else that fit in with what America was supposed to be — was a commonplace, with all of the self-abasement and the shame that entailed.
Much of that was how America had always been. We changed it, many of us, through some of the proudest struggles of our history. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it wasn’t pretty, but we did it, together. We won voting rights for all. We ended Jim Crow, and we pushed open the Golden Door again to welcome immigrants. We achieved full rights for women, and fought to let people of all genders and sexual orientations stand in the light. And if we have not yet created the America that Langston Hughes swore will be — “The land that never has been yet” — if there is still much to be done, at least we have advanced our standards of humanity, hope and decency to places where many people never thought we could reach.
What old men know, too, is that all that is gained can be lost.
Yes, this is about an election and candidates, but it is also about having a say in the kind of future you want for our country. I want a future where all can flourish and where we give a hand-up to those who need it. That’s what my parents taught me.
Even if you think differently, I still want you to vote. If you are young, you will live with the consequences of the election for a long time.
Vote. It’s your duty, your right and your responsibility. You’ll be glad you did.