“We the People…” From our very founding, activism has been a fundamental element of the America’s DNA. Our Constitution not only declares, but protects our rights to activism—to assemble, to speak openly, to have a free press, and to choose our government. The activist spirit runs deep in Massachusetts. Colonial patriots in Boston and its suburbs rose up in 1775 to fight for freedom. Abolitionists like Amos Adams Lawrence expanded that fight in the 19th Century. Suffragists like Julia Ward Howe gave it additional meaning in the 20th Century.
In the past several decades, grassroots movements for civil rights and voting rights, worker protections, environmental protection, disabled and LGBT rights have inspired generations of Americans and changed our country for the better.
More recently the growth of the Tea Party movement and the 2016 presidential election energized constituencies that rekindled American activism, and in turn have energized a force in response, as seen in the historic Women’s Marches in cities across the US and the world– and just last week in the response to the Trump Administration’s travel ban. I am very proud that Massachusetts continues to be a leader in so many of these initiatives.
While elections and marches are defined by messaging and voter turnout, successful movements also recognize the need to engage directly with Congress, and to seek opportunities to shape policy at the state level. The Trump Administration is only two weeks old but there has already been a flurry of executive actions and even a Supreme Court nomination. While every newly-elected President promises change, every Congress has a responsibility to vet that agenda. And in an activist democracy every citizen has responsibility to express their support for or opposition to the direction the country is going.
Lawmaking is intentionally complex. The Founding Fathers and the legislative leaders that followed them recognized there is a purpose to process. The Congressional committee structure and House and Senate rules ensure time for thoughtful deliberation and adequate public input. Legislative delays are not always the enemy to progress, but rather an opportunity for debate. There will be votes and points of order at every turn as Congress considers repealing the Affordable Care Act, re-writing the tax code, increasing infrastructure investments, and perhaps radically amending regulations on immigration, banking, the environment, health care, and higher education. As these policy priorities are considered, legislative relationships will be critical and the voices of voters, industry and other stakeholders will be paramount.
I believe we will see a lot more American activism over the next four years. It’s what gave birth to our country and what for more than 200 years has made our country great.