We need radical hope like never before

Wednesday, October 19, 2022
If there was ever a time in which radical hope is needed, it is now.

The idea of America is a beautiful dream. The dream is one of justice, freedom and democracy. The ideal is a country where people can live free from oppression and persecution, a place where anyone can build a life with safety and some measure of prosperity. The Declaration of Independence itself promises us life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The truth of our country’s creation stands in stark contrast to these ideals. The very people who drafted and signed their names to the document promising life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among other values, did not include those whom they held in enslavement, or those they displaced from their land, nor did these values apply to women. The inequities and injustices of our moment flow from this original exclusion, from this conviction that Black people, Indigenous peoples, non-white immigrants, women, and even white men who did not own property did not belong.

Radical hope dares to believe that even when forces seek to exclude some of us, we will find a way to include all of us. Radical hope dares to believe that every single human is worthy of care, consideration, intention and specifically the equality, equity, and protection of law and of all our systems and institutions. Radical hope leads us to action. Radical hope teaches us that we cannot sit by and wring our hands or wail in despair but in fact we can fight for what we know is right. Generations of advocates have done so before us – think of the warriors of the civil rights movement, the disability rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the American Indian Movement, immigrant rights movement, farmworkers movement, the uprising at Stonewall that launched an LGBTQIA2S+ movement, and so many more. Some individuals rallied, some marched, some went to the courts, some offered financial support, but everyone played a role in fighting for a better life for the generations to come. They lived and acted with radical hope. And now, with so many of those gains at risk, it is imperative that we do the same.

I find our current moment deeply concerning. I think about how hard my own ancestors, hand in hand with many allies, fought for the right to vote, how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 enshrined their victory and then, how quickly those protections against racism and exclusion were eliminated under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby v. Holder (2013). Now, across the country, but especially in the southern states, legislatures are reenacting the very same barriers to voting that so many activists valiantly fought to dismantle.

I also reflect on the dangers faced by so many women and pregnant people before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade (1973). In those pre-Roe decades, without the legal right to abortion, the ability to plan one’s family, and to make health care decisions between the medical professional and the patient regarding pregnancy were sharply curtailed. While pregnant people with resources traveled outside the country, or paid high fees to end a pregnancy, people with low or no income were either forced to remain pregnant or turn to other methods which sometimes led to injury or death. Roe v. Wade was a victory for the rights of those who can become pregnant, and while rights did not always equate to abortion access, for almost 50 years it remained the law of the land – we had the right to end a pregnancy before viability. This victory has now been decimated by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In the wake of Dobbs, we enter an era marked by a patchwork of oppressive laws, varying from state to state, which make abortion a crime, and place pregnant people and medical professionals in physical and legal jeopardy. Doctors are terrified to end ectopic pregnancies, calling their lawyers before daring to take the medical action that could save their patient’s life. Pregnant people dealing with domestic violence, economic instability, rape or simply the recognition that they are not able to raise a child for any number of reasons, now face prosecution and persecution.

The impact of Dobbs extends beyond the right to access an abortion. The biggest concern is the undoing of the right to privacy. Under our current high court, the decades old jurisprudence that articulated the constitutional right to access contraceptives, the right to interracial marriage and same-sex marriage are explicitly imperiled.

In recent years, our federal courts, including the highest court in the land, have been remade to champion the most extreme and politically conservative interpretations of the Constitution. The dire consequences of this transformation have already surfaced. Tribal sovereignty – always fraught – became even more frail under Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. Longstanding rights of those accused of crimes have been undermined by Vega v. Tekoh, which limited our Miranda rights, making it even more difficult to hold law enforcement accountable. Beyond the courts, immigrants fleeing poverty and violence face a high tide of cruelty and exclusion.

We need radical hope like never before. In the face of far too many threats to our hopes and dreams, we are called upon to hope even harder and redouble our advocacy and activism, to continuously name our country’s ideals of justice and fight for those ideals for all people, regardless of their identities. This is what we do at the ACLU. The Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign says ACLU stands for “Act, challenge, love, unite.” Now that is radical hope!

I am proud that every day our brilliant and passionate staff come to work with radical hope in their minds and hearts. Despite all that is happening around us, through radical hope and diligent, strategic efforts we have accomplished so much — in the courts, in the Legislature and working in and with communities across the state:
  • We achieved a major victory and step forward for race equity in the criminal legal system with the recent unanimous Washington Supreme Court ruling in State v. Sum. Drawing on arguments presented in an amicus brief by ACLU-WA and our allies and building on over a decade of work led by ACLU-WA to reduce racial bias in the courts, the state Supreme Court ruled that race must be considered when determining whether a person feels reasonably free to leave during an interaction with police. This decision is an important and long overdue acknowledgment that a person’s race impacts how they carry America’s history of racialized policing and police violence.
  • We blocked HB 1807, a school censorship bill that would have prevented Washington’s educators from discussing systemic racism with students or including Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Anti-Racist” or any mention of critical race theory in their curriculum.
  • In Selah, we represented S.A.F.E., a grassroots, community-led organization formed to promote anti-racism and equality, after the city removed and destroyed signs and messages written on the sidewalks to express support for the Black Lives Matter movement, police reform and race equity. The lawsuit ended this year in a settlement with the city of Selah, which agreed to stop selectively enforcing its sign code and to fund and install a mural to promote inclusion and diversity in the community.
This is just a sampling of our successes recently. Know this: we are not giving up! Please join us in not giving up! Join us in fighting for equity, justice and belonging for all of us. With radical hope as our discipline and our rallying cry, we can make the ideal of America a reality for all.