There are some who would say that the idea of equality is nothing more than an aspirational declaration. They argue that the truth of meritocracy it is at the root of human evolution. What drives progress more than the individual’s drive for more?
And yet it is clear across time and space that most individuals are not born into the opportunity to tap their drive for more. The economic realities of one’s birth, gender, and skin color have in millions of instances altogether eliminated the possibility of betterment – of education, of having a voice of one’s own.
And yet, we have also seen that the role of progressive politics, the evolution of legal structures, and the redistribution of resources have created meaningful inroads for people of different genders, races, and economic means to gain access to life changing improvements in quality of life for them and their descendants. This fight for equality has been the defining story of our human history. And let’s be totally clear: the story of equality has been a fight between the oppressed and the oppressors since the beginning of recorded history (and probably before that when we were walking around on all fours).
Choose any meaningful shift – for example, the right for women or people of color to vote – and you can read the victory in the lives sacrificed and the blood spilled. No rights have ever been easily conveyed from those holding power to those without power because it was “the right thing to do” or because they believed in equality. No, those who have relinquished power have always done so unwillingly and the fight is never really over.
Today we call the fight over the right to vote “gerrymandering”. Before that, it was the War on Drugs that incarcerated millions of young African American men effectively eliminating their right to vote ever.
The victory of Title IX in 1972 has achieved amazing results in the name of equality for women – just look at the U.S. women’s soccer team. Likewise the number of women graduating from colleges has eclipsed that of men. And yet, these victories are also not without backlash. Women continue to struggle to make equal pay for equal work and have the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts.
Equality is only real to the degree that an individual is willing to fight for it. The fact that it was proclaimed as a God-given, inalienable right misrepresents the truth of it. How real is the right to vote if you don’t go vote? How real is the right to assemble and speak your mind if you don’t ever show up?
Civil rights, the right to equal education, equal pay for the same work – these only come alive through the lives of real people who demand them and are willing to work to maintain them. And the fight for equality now is no longer just between the oppressor and the oppressed. The vast and growing divide of inequality that is the fabric of American culture now is as big a threat to the oppressor. One only needs to look back a few hundred years to see the complete and total overthrow of reigning classes to see what is coming. The fight for equality has always been the work of the day. It is more urgent than it has ever been for all of us.
What are you willing to fight for?