By Stephen Rohde

Thomas Paine, author of the 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense.” (porteous / CC BY-SA 2.0)

On Election Day, we were shocked, disappointed and deeply worried about our future. But we cannot give in to all that. All kidding aside, we’re not moving to Canada. We are staying right here so we can continue the struggle for equality, justice and peace, in the spirit of hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” Czech writer Vaclav Havel, a man who knows a lot about the struggle for political freedom and social justice, had two very important things to say about hope.

He wrote: “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.”

And, he wrote: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

All of us who are devoted to equality, justice and peace and what they stand for understand what King meant when he said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Or South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Or Albert Einstein, when he said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Why do we keep coming back despite setbacks and disappointments? I believe it is because of hope. The hope that we are making a difference. The hope that we will make a greater difference by working together. The hope that we are each contributing to something very special in our lives that we have rarely, if ever, experienced before. The hope that what we do that is real and genuine will spread to other communities. The hope that peace and justice and equality start here.

In January 1776, when the struggle for independence from the tyranny of England was looking futile, Thomas Paine wrote a simple pamphlet called “Common Sense,” which immediately spread through the colonies and ignited great hope. Paine’s words then speak to us now. He wrote: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. “Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

In the movement for equality, justice and peace, we smile at trouble and gather strength from distress. We grow brave by reflection and do not shrink. Our collective heart is firm and our consciences approve our conduct. We are hopeful and we give each other hope. That’s why we do this work. But our hope is not passive. We will not remain silent or neutral in the face of evil. Hope breathes life into our actions. Hope sustains us to the day that equality, peace and justice prevail at home and abroad.

Stephen Rohde is Chair of Death Penalty Focus, Bend the Arc: a Jewish Partnership for Justice, and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.


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