You all know that quotation by Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I want to turn that on its head. “Never doubt that a small group of well-funded, slick-talking, greedy liars can change the world: indeed, it already has.” The world we live in today has unfortunately been shaped by them. The people behind our system of mass surveillance, voter disenfranchisement, and property restriction are the same people who have polluted our air, water, lungs, bodies, and minds. “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor,” South African anti-apartheid leader Steven Biko said, “is the mind of the oppressed.” We, here today, need to do something about that.
Fifty six years ago, Lyndon Johnson took two acts with historic repercussions. On August 6, 1965, he signed the voting rights act, a landmark law that gave all people the right to vote. Looking at the undeniable oppression from Jim Crow segregation and hearing the voices of leaders like John Lewis, he signed a bill intended to guarantee Black citizens’ voices. It went a long way to redress some unrightable wrongs. We all know that it didn’t go far enough, but it broadened the electorate and recognized certain inalienable rights.
In November of 1965, President Johnson also said this, and pardon the gendered language. “Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years … The climatic changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings. The possibilities of deliberately bringing about countervailing climatic changes therefore need to be thoroughly explored.” Fifty-six years ago.
Today, we stand at a moment of inflection connected to those moments when people are trying to occupy your mind and use it as a weapon against you. There are those in the U.S. Congress, in the Georgia, Texas, and—yes—the Pennsylvania legislature who want to make it harder for you to vote, especially if you are a person of color. And there are those who are seeking to delay our collective action on climate change. It is no coincidence that both of these inhibitors to progress are funded by the Koch Brothers and other merchants of doubt. If they can keep you from voting, they can prevent climate justice. If they can poison our minds and our conversations and make it so damnably unpleasant to talk about race or climate change with your friends and family, then they can stop the long arc of history from bending toward social and climate justice.
So what do you need to do? We need you to talk, share, listen, and build solidarity to enable everyone to vote, for every vote to be counted in a system that creates representation, for you to advocate for racial, climate, and environmental justice, and for you to vote in EVERY election on racial, climate, and environmental justice. When you use your voice, you raise the volume that will drown out white supremacy and the merchants of doubt who’ve occupied our government for too long.
Will you use your voice? YES!
Will you use your voice for racial, climate, and environmental justice? YES!
Will you vote? YES!