Our recent past, our present moment, and our thoughts for the future all give us cause for concern. We are anxious, troubled, and uncertain in this era of pandemic illness, racial tension, political turmoil, climate change, economic inequality, unemployment, mass incarceration, and a world-wide increase of authoritarian governments. Our planet throbs with anger, hurt, and worry. Some say democracy itself–ours and that of other nations, is at risk.
But there may be glimpses of hope glimmering in the bleak distress that seems to envelop us, even on this beautiful afternoon as I write.
Join Bob Berson this Sunday as he shares thoughts about just a few of the issues we face, looks for sources of encouragement, and, as we begin our 2020-2021 year at the Society, endeavors to hearten us as we continue to do our part in this, our troubled and lovely world.
Email Leader Bart Worden with any questions.
A Message from Bob Berson…
For people like me who spent a lot (too much?) time in educational institutions, the “new year” begins after Labor Day, with the start of school. Ethical Culture too has tended to think in terms of the “academic year.”
When I was growing up in the Bronx, my family was active at the Riverdale Society; the year began in September and I attended what was then called the “Children’s Sunday Assembly.” I don’t recall whether the adult Sunday Meetings continued throughout the summer, but I know we kids had the summer “off.” I do remember, however, that the Society held summer “Family Weekends” at places like the Hudson Guild Settlement “Farm” in New Jersey and (if my memory is accurate) at least once at a Pocono “resort.”
At those weekend gatherings we had games and sports, hikes, swimming, and also an informal Sunday Platform Meeting at which Dr. Spetter, the Society’s Leader, spoke. (We at Northern Westchester had, for several glorious summers, a similar experience through the generosity of Joe and Adele Janovsky at their camp Redwing.) At the Riverdale Society we also sang: songs like “The ink is black, the page is white, together we learn to read and write…” and “Last night I dreamed the strangest dream I ever dreamed before, I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war…” The ’50’s were a time when hopeful possibilities for our democracy and all humanity were voiced, in spite of fears of nuclear war, the struggles of the civil rights movement and the violence in opposition, and reactionary rantings from Senator McCarthy and the John Birch Society. We could envision, and even as youngsters take action toward, a more just and peaceful nation and world.
This year feels different. We didn’t have a 2019-2020 academic year. The corona virus snapped the year in two Not even January first, but “late January” marked a new era. The pandemic brought, and continues to bring, illness and death, economic devastation, social and emotional dislocation, worry and fear, depression, anxiety, and despair; and the year brings as well signs of governmental ignorance, incompetence and inadequacy, and also rampant rage, often in the form of political polarization frequently fueled by paranoid conspiracy theories, and often by the President himself.
In addition, the ever-repeating killing of Black Americans by police officers has led to a more obvious and more widely acknowledged awareness of the continuing outrageous (there’s that word “rage” again) effects of racism in America. Large demonstrations here and around the world have called for change, for justice, for “redress of grievances”—and there has been angry and frightening “cultural backlash” from people who seem threatened by the notion that black lives do matter, that systemic racism must be ended, that public safety can be achieved by better trained and supervised peace officers more attuned to and connected with the communities they serve.
And then there is democracy itself.
This year calls for a census and will see a terrifyingly important election. The current federal administration seems eager to violate the Fourteenth Amendment requirement to count “the whole number of persons in each State” for the census, and the President seems to urge voters to attempt a felony by trying to vote (for him) twice. There have been striking efforts in many states to restrict voting by, for example, passing “strict” voter identification laws: in some, state university student identification documents do not generate voting rights while gun licenses do. Several states have “purged” voter registration lists, disenfranchising thousands, disproportionately African Americans, and the lists are glaringly inaccurate.
This election will determine the nature of the Supreme Court, and other Federal courts as well for a generation to come, and the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has gleefully spoken of having “flipped” three Federal Circuit Courts and of the two Supreme Court seats the are likely to be vacated in the next few years. In addition, we have been living in a period of “executive action”: Presidential decrees on economic policy, environmental regulations, and international diplomacy without Congressional concurrence; a period of “acting” appointments of Cabinet Secretaries and other high level administrative officials without the “advice and consent” of the Senate, an era of international activity conduced in the name of the United States by people unelected and procedurally unappointed and unqualified—like the President’s “personal lawyer” and the President’s family.
And the President declares that independent Inspectors General are not needed because he can serve as “watchdog” over governmental agencies by himself. The “Founders” of our nation feared a monarchy; a secretive governing family corporation comes close, especially when a President restricted to two terms in office jokes—?—about a third, declares Presidential power to be practically unlimited, and has been found by a major national newspaper to have lied over 20,000 times while in office.
“We the People” of this many-hued, marvelously diverse nation, enriched by both “native” and “immigrant” contributions (and a nation morally diminished by the suffering and sacrifices they have endured), we the people have the right and the responsibility to “form a more perfect Union.” We can speak out for, and work toward, a more just, compassionate, and equitable nation, a nation which seeks to “promote the general Welfare” in comprehensive and abundant measure, and which articulates and demonstrates an abiding democratic respect for the dignity and worth of all people.
Even in this most difficult and disheartening of years, we can all do our parts in the grand, enduring endeavors of decency and democracy.