Lincoln, certainly one of our greatest presidents, had his own view of slavery changed steadily and dramatically over the years. He never ran for office as an abolitionist until he ran for his second term as president.
The question of slavery was our country’s biggest internal contradiction, and the largest obstacle to human progress in America’s history. Slavery was fiercely debated for centuries before reaching a crescendo during the Civil War.
We can learn many things about our nation and her internal struggle with slavery and from Lincoln’s personal internal struggle with slavery.
But I am most struck by America’s painfully slow, gradual, but inexorable movement to greater justice and freedom throughout our history.
Change comes with great difficulty and real struggle in America. Change is never achieved just by political or legislative action. Progressive change in America always requires sacrifice, direct action, and disruption. It also requires the determination on the part of many people who yearn to change things for the better to believe in Yes, We Can! Si Se Puede!
I have a jacket with the words Yes, We Can! And Si Se Puede! Many believe it is a jacket from Obama’s first campaign. It is not. It is a jacket made for union organizers. It is the chant we’ve used on picket line after picket line over the years. It is a saying that demonstrates the belief that average people can win, can push forward, can make a more perfect union, can defeat the forces of hatred and anger and greed and evil. Si Se Puede represents our belief in the question Lincoln posed at Gettysburg — whether a people can rule themselves.
There is no doubt in my mind that we will win universal healthcare for everyone in America. I don’t know when, but I know our current struggle for the ACA is part of that inexorable march.
There is no doubt in my mind that we will defeat the evils of big money and deregulated and unfettered jungle capitalism, Ayn Rand capitalism, the kind of capitalism that denies our humanity.
But it really is up to us to not weaken in well doing, to never concede — or as The Boss said, the words carved into my arm — No Retreat, No Surrender.
Photo source: Gage Skidmore on Flickr via Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)