Columnist J.M. Sorrell: The collective good

  • About 200 people march down Main Street in Easthampton toward the police station during a rally organized by the group 01027: A Knee Is Not Enough on Saturday, Aug. 1. Gazette file photo/kevin gutting

Published: 8/4/2020 3:41:31 PM

We are confronting a number of reckonings in contemporary American society. Our deficient public health policies and practices have been shamefully laid bare.

The current wave of Black Lives Matter and associated movements have the potential to rectify the legacy of white supremacy with greater depth and inspired action than ever before.

MeToo champions have bravely defied patriarchal norms to demand respect and justice for the wrongs of sexual harassment and assaults that have plagued women in all areas of life.

Our democracy is not only being tested, but the very subjective and misleading American history we have been taught is being upended. Our reckonings are messy because breaking from norms is uncomfortable. It is also evolution.

The American custom of individualism must be replaced by an ethic of the collective good if we are to advance with economic and social justice parity and if we are to very seriously change the direction of anthropogenic climate change.

The present upheavals are opportunities for this shift, and we cannot afford to squander any of it. Each of us can demonstrate a commitment to change for the collective good. Vote. Decry racism, homophobia and misogyny. Fight for environmental justice. Work to end poverty — hunger, homelessness and health care disparities. Engage with empathy.

The cult of selfishness is our undoing. I am discouraged when I experience the majority of people not wearing masks or keeping physical distance in public. I urge you to watch a seven-minute video produced for the New York Times called “That’s Ridiculous. How America’s Coronavirus Response Looks Abroad” (Miller and Westbrook, July 27).

I am also disheartened that people support the practices of those in power who mercilessly cause destruction to the majority of Americans. Yet I am encouraged by progressive movements and the precipitous unveiling of the numerous hypocrisies of the religious and political right.

High school and college students are committed to justice causes of all kinds. The Women’s March, The Movement for Black Lives, and climate justice organizations are defining themselves as intersectional in origin rather than previous similar groups that had to grow and meet the needs of additional populations. These movements will accomplish more because of those principles of inclusion and expansion. The collective good is central in all of them.

While American exceptionalism is a fraud, we do have experience with concern for the common good amidst the path of individualistic ambitions. The collective good muscle is flexed when we volunteer in our communities, when we serve people without expectation of reward, and when we support causes whether or not they directly impact us. Actions for the collective good are not without self-interest since it always feels good to think of others and to give from our hearts.

Our general election is less than 100 days away. Democrats could gain control of the Senate, and Joe Biden may become our next president. While this would be a beneficial path, our country’s problems are a long way from being solved. Our activism for the common good must continue whether or not it is in reaction to the current fascist rule. People in power do not automatically right injustices. We have to demand it.

I believe that Elizabeth Warren would be the best pick for vice president. She would strengthen the ticket with young and progressive voters, and she works hard for the collective good without compromising her values. As a senator, she understands negotiation and persuasion. An Aug. 2 New York Times article notes, “She has emerged as one of the most racially progressive white politicians in the country.”

Angela Peoples, the director of Black Womxn For, has urged Biden to choose her as his running mate. I remember that Warren was the only presidential candidate to talk about environmental racism and why it must be addressed in climate change work. Her commitment to economic justice is well established.

At this point, it is important that Biden wins, and I think the learning curve for Warren is the shortest. White people seem to think he needs to choose a woman of color, while many Black leaders simply want him to win. I hope his strategists create the best plan to maximize his chances for winning, and that the choice is a wise one whomever she may be. For sure, the collective good is at stake.

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice activist, an anti-racism trainer and a health care advocate.

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