All eyes on the prize

We stand at a precious moment, once again, when the outcry to tragedy has brought us to historic consensus around a seemingly obvious societal truth demanding complete attention.

Yett that attention may well fade, if recent history is any indicator.

Yes, we need to seize this moment, to grasp it tightly through tumultuous times, and pass on through what are sure to be stormier times ahead. And raise our voices and fists, if need be, and our deeper consciousness as well, to assure the passions of this moment endure and justice prevails.

Who can recall the focus of our collective attention just six months ago, when we saw a clear-cut case for impeachment? Or the riveting period a few months before that, when Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic to make impassioned, yet reasoned, calls at here for immediately halting climate change? Or the urgency of Florida students’ appeals to end gun violence following the 2018 mass Parkland shootings, echoing those after massacres at Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Columbine?

What happened to the demands of hundreds of thousands of pink-hatted women and men, or the #MeToo moment stirring the nation to awake to the pervasiveness of sexual violence against women? What became of the overwhelming sense of hope that brought throngs to the Lincoln Memorial that began Obama's presidency -- or, for that matter, in 1963 when Rev. King shared his dream of a day when we’re “free at last, free at last?”

Our diminishing attention spans fail to survive the enormity of our critical issues, as we're driven to distraction by drivel. Common-sense solutions also seem intentionally confounded by institutions calculated to reject our attempts to address seemingly insurmountable problems. (We have only to think of how quickly the hard-won Iranian nuclear deal and Paris Climate Agreement were obliterated.)

Our ability to deal with the intricate challenges threatening our democracy, our planet, our very humanity, shrinks under the relentlessness of our constant “Information Age” barrage. It's also threatened, ironically, by our newfound ability to capture every brutal image, each imbecilic and invective tweet from the bully pulpit and divisive bit from society’s powerbrokers.

Fighting hate, discrimination and the class divide is a marathon, as generations of freedom fighters know. Hand-painted “Black Lives Matter” signs -- just as “Occupy Wall Street,” "I am a Man" and "Peace Now" -- face being washed away by the fury of the coming hurricane season, by the morass of unemployment, homelessness and economic hardship and by waves of COVID deaths that are yet to come after we’ve already endured so many.

Ahead threaten a crush of monumental struggles: to protect a woman’s control over her body, to guard against voter suppression and election disruption, to guarantee Native rights, to protect the environment against hazardous pipelines, hydrofracking and deforestation, to safeguard clean air and safe, free drinking water … as well to end sexual violence and sexual and racial discrimination once and for all.

We need to be working simultaneously, passionately, enduringly on all of these issues while teaching our children as well as one another why they are essential struggles.

Nothing brings me to despair as much as articles proclaiming or even suggesting we may be nearing the end of racism. These feed the false notion that such a generations-long struggle can be easily won.

As the urgency of this watershed moment “evolves” from mourning and shouting to debating, negotiating, politicking through our fractured political system for real change, we’re confronting bandwagon platitudes ... and ultimately society's potential forgetting under the weight of all the injustices and unmet needs we’re carrying.

Constantly threatened by waves of natural disasters and crises, as well as by deliberate campaigns to have us forget and stoke public doubt, fears and divisions, our progress suffers also from our own overreach, with calls to “defund the police.” It’s useful to imagine such possibilities, but I believe these can also be unrealistic distractions in most places in America where public safety is still a banner cry. And they feed public cynicism and threaten a backlash to set back whatever gains we believe made.

Only by coming together in these clear-cut moments can we capture the public’s attention and recognition that dramatic change is needed, if we act with resolve. The important victories may face setbacks, and permanent solutions require more profound alterations in human character, to actually to end discrimination.

We need to simultaneously stand fully in the moment, march forward and also take in the enormity of what we’re dealing with as each relentless, momentary news cycle presents us with lead-ups to the coming election, the next wave of natural disasters, and millions of refugees fleeing widespread violence.

We truly need to hold on, hold on with all our eyes on the prize as we push ahead to through oppression that’s deep-rooted and powerful.

Yet it’s not as so strong as our collective ability to endure …. if we can stay focused, not let go, and in our hearts always remember.

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