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For History to Be Written, It Has to Be Made

December 16, 2017 in History

By Cody Keenan

A statue of a defiant girl facing the Charging Bull sculpture in the Financial District of New York. (Credit: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In a year exhausted by one of the more frenetic news agendas in memory, an easily overlooked development has been the re-emergence of patient, persistent civic engagement and activism.

The massive marches that rang in the new year dispersed, but we didn’t go home. We packed airports to thwart a travel ban, and jammed phone lines to protect people’s health insurance. We stood up to bigots with torches, and stood up for young immigrants facing deportation to countries they don’t even know. We, the people, grabbed clipboards and started running for office in numbers never seen—not merely to resist something, but to reach for something better.

There’s a fundamentally optimistic proposition at the core of this activism. It’s the idea that while our past may be immutable and our politics unpredictable, our destiny is neither of these things. It’s the idea that the long arc of history is something we have the power to shape.

The question for 2018 and beyond is whether or not this activism will be sustained. Progress is often slow and unsatisfying, and we’re conditioned to expect our information and our gratification right away. Alerts crowd our home screens, and a storm of social media lurks just beyond—torrents of argument without mission, and finger-pointing without direction. Every setback risks disappointment, the sting of heckles from a cynical choir, and worst of all, the creeping doubt that maybe one’s efforts don’t matter, and aren’t worth it.

The trick is to think of progress—the act of bending history for the better—the same way a politician from my home state of Illinois once challenged us to think of patriotism: “not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

A statue of a defiant girl facing the Charging Bull sculpture in the Financial District of New York. (Credit: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In my ten years as a speechwriter for Barack Obama, I’ve been fortunate to experience a few moments when it really did feel like the present gave way to the swirl of history. An electric evening in Grant Park when a young president-elect who looked like no other took the stage. A spontaneous assembly on Pennsylvania Avenue when word spread that the murderous boogeyman behind 9/11 was no more. A joyous June morning when the Supreme Court ruled that all marriage is equal.

They were moments when it really did feel like the present surrendered …read more

Source: HISTORY

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