Progressive Maryland, along with other progressive organizations in the state, endorsed and worked hard for the victory of Ben Jealous as Democratic nominee for governor. Behind Jealous, and the rest of us, are the long history of struggle against inequality and oppression. In this post-primary message, Jealous harks back to an earlier pivot point and Frederick Douglass's great oration of 1852 as the clouds of civil war gathered. Douglass said then "We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future." And he adds, a few lines later, "You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors." As Jealous makes clear here, the struggle is far from over and our responsibilities are clear on this day celebrated as the nation's birthday.
/By Ben Jealous/ "To him, your celebration is a sham; ... your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery...."
In 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke these words to express the sentiments of the American Slave to an audience observing Independence Day.
With so many in bondage today -- from families separated in immigration detention, to the epidemic of mass incarceration -- we can't forget these words. I know I never have.
Throughout my career as a civil rights leader and community organizer, I've often thought of Douglass and tried to mirror his example. Essentially, at his core, Douglass was an organizer and a believer in building big, broad coalitions for change.
I was fortunate enough to be named Marylander of the Year in 2013 because as president and CEO of the NAACP, I helped lead a historic effort to abolish the death penalty, achieve marriage equality, and pass the Maryland DREAM Act all in one year. When skeptics doubted if immigrants, LGBTQ+, and civil rights groups could all come together and advance at once, I thought of Douglass' courage and worked to help fashion the type of coalition he described as, "the perfect national illustration of the unity and dignity of the human family that the world has ever seen."
His refusal to see opportunity and justice as a zero-sum game gives us a road map for every struggle for equality since. When we act as if only one group has the ability to gain power, or that the success of an oppressed group comes at the price of another, we allow ourselves to be pitted against those who would ally with us to ensure justice for all.
166 years ago, Douglass simply asked: "What, to an American Slave, is your Fourth of July?"
Today we celebrate freedom and all that America has accomplished in extending liberty and equality, but we cannot forget those who are still striving for it right here at home. What, to those still in bondage, is Independence Day?
For them, for each other, and for Maryland, we must keep fighting.
May we all continue to strive for the independence the Fourth of July honors. Onward.
Ben Jealous is Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland.
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