2014 has been a watershed year for social justice and equity across the country, in California and in the Haas, Jr. Fund’s hometown of San Francisco. The number of marriage equality states rose from 18 to 35. California continued to lead the nation down a path that values immigrants and their contributions to our communities and our economy. Meanwhile, school district leaders in San Francisco began work to implement a bold new vision for ensuring that all students have an opportunity to succeed.
At the same time that we have seen important progress, there is still a great deal of work to do. Even with the President’s bold immigration announcement in November, millions of our immigrant neighbors across the country continue to long for the day when they and their families are treated fairly under the law and can live and work without fear. And, the tragic losses of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York are stark reminders that racial injustice is still alive and well in America today.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. But how does this happen? What does it take to achieve real and lasting progress?
One essential part of the answer is, it takes people working hard at all levels and over many years to bring change to their communities, their states and their country.
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but this doesn't happen on its own. People make it happen and they need our support as they do their vital work.Ira Hirschfield, President
I was reminded of this recently as I stood in a room full of people who are deeply committed to the work of social change. The occasion was an event in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Center for Community Change (CCC), a longtime grantee and partner of the Haas, Jr. Fund. The energy at that event was palpable — and purposeful — as social justice leaders gathered to celebrate the progress that has been made and to reflect on the hard work ahead.
CCC Executive Director Deepak Bhargava’s description of the reason for the event stuck with me as I returned home to San Francisco. “We celebrate the work that often goes unheralded, and the people and organizations that keep our vision for a just world alive,” he said.
This is an important responsibility for all of us who are committed to social justice and equity. Investing time, talent and money in the movements to achieve equality for gay and lesbian people, immigrants, students of color and other groups is critical; these resources supply the fuel that movements need to succeed.
But as I reflect back on that evening in October and remember the faces and the stories in that room, I also am struck by how important it is to recognize and honor the people and the organizations behind the work, those who labor tenaciously year in and year out for change. People like …
The gay rights leader who juggles budget reports, fundraising and staff development while traveling the country speaking out for marriage equality…
The public sector education leader who challenges the status quo and pushes new policies and practices so our schools work for all students…
The organizers who go door to door to educate people about the enormous benefits that immigrants bring to our country…
The countless staff members and volunteers who work behind the scenes to develop messages, raise funds and deliver programs that make a real, measurable difference in their communities and beyond.
These people are the essential fabric of social movements. It is because of their values, their passion and their hard work that issues of inequality and injustice have held their place at the top of the public agenda in this country. It is because of them that we are debating — and advancing — solutions to the problems that keep so many of our neighbors from being able to reach their potential and live their dreams simply because of who they are, where they are from or who they love.
We have seen important changes happen this year on issues that define who we want to be as a nation, as a state and as a community. When it comes to celebrating these gains and weighing what it will take to address the challenges that remain, we should remember that social progress happens because of thousands of leaders, their staff, volunteers, supporters and community members who work at the front lines of social change.
The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but as Dr. King showed through his life and work, this doesn’t happen on its own. People make it happen, and they need our support as they do their vital work. As we head into a new year, let’s make a commitment to those who are working for a better, more equal world. Let’s honor them by writing an email or a note or thanks, giving them a call, rolling up our sleeves by volunteering, or sending a check to their organizations – whatever it takes so they know we value what they are doing and that we will keep standing with them in the fight for change.