Step up, speak out for a better nation

We are two years past the white supremacist march in Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer, if we can ever be past it. Instead of making progress, we fall farther behind. Our nation hits yet another turning point, swerves ever so slightly, then continues forging backward.

For some who believe the U.S. is on the wrong path, the hopeful expectation that an individual or singular event could redirect us has meant repeated disappointments. Let that be a crucial lesson ahead of the next election cycle.

To those waiting to be rescued by Robert Mueller.

To those waiting to be rescued by Barack Obama.

To those waiting to be rescued by the ghost of John McCain.

It isn’t going to happen. The damage runs too deep. We have to save ourselves.

Some working for change know this, have known this. Their advocacy predates the current spree of destruction and division. For others these days have been a tipping point into a world of activism that may be new to them but where they now deeply engage.

Whether teachers and education supporters marching through downtown Raleigh or immigration rights and children’s advocates serving at the border, they are standing at the pivot between knowing something is wrong and actively working to make it right. They have chosen.

Among people of faith, promises of thoughts and prayers in a time of tragedy are shamefully inadequate while others recognize that prayer doesn’t replace policy, that faith without works is dead.

They call forth a spiritual witness that transcends intercession, from recent, a far-reaching statement by the clergy of Washington National Cathedral on gun violence and racism, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s sanctuary declaration, to the clergy who turned out en masse in orange stoles – the color of anti-gun violence activism – at the office of the Senate majority leader.

For those who have not yet found their place, who had hoped that cooler heads would prevail, now is the time to look inward, be resolute, and get involved, becoming advocates and activists for a more compassionate, just nation.

It doesn’t have to be scary and it is certainly not scarier than our current reality.

Not everyone should run for office, but everyone who is legally qualified must vote and must work to make sure that right isn’t infringed upon for others. Register, encourage other voters, and offer a ride to the polls to those who need one.

The phone numbers for your council and school board members, county commissioner, representative and senators should be saved in the contacts of your cell phone. Call them while you’re getting your oil changed or waiting in line at the grocery store. They may not act as you want them to, but don’t ever let them legitimately say that they never heard from constituents with your perspective.

And get organized. Innumerable grassroots groups have cropped up in the last few years focused on educating and empowering people.

Nationally, votefwd.org offers you the opportunity to engage from the exact same spot where you may stream movies and check Facebook. Locally neighborsoncall.org has an election skills fair on Sept. 15 in Chapel Hill. Admission is free, but an RSVP through the website is required.

Many more possibilities are waiting. Find your niche and commit yourself to the work.

The cavalry isn’t coming, and that’s OK because we are not damsels, and this is not Disney.

We must make our own happy endings if there are to be any.

Community columnist Aleta Payne of Cary is executive director of Johnson Service Corps, a community of young adults committed to social justice and spiritual growth.