This year of pandemic and antiracist protest has revealed to the world both the grandeur and the challenges of American democracy. Movements for racial equality, economic opportunity and intersectional justice have galvanized historic numbers of Americans to demonstrate in the streets. Ideas of social and political change no doubt also contributed to the record voter turnout in Texas.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed racial, economic and gender fault lines within our national American family that must be transformed in order to build a healthy and truly equitable democracy. Food justice, housing affordability, quality public schools and racially integrated neighborhoods help families, communities and democracy to thrive. Our collective voices matter now more than ever.
Racial justice, as demonstrated by the George Floyd protests, remains key to reimagining systems of punishment, structural violence and systemic racism that impoverish and marginalize millions of people while making our democracy weaker. Voter suppression, in the form of hourslong lines, distant polling locations, and ID standards that are specifically designed to discourage Black, Indigenous People of Color, diminish the legitimacy of our democratic processes and the long-term viability of our institutions.
Democracy only works if we are willing to engage with our friends, neighbors and adversaries in the hard work of discussion, debate, organizing and compromise in order to build consensus around how we define citizenship and dignity for all people. We can choose to reimagine public safety, advocate racially justice- centered environmental policies and build a Beloved Community free of racism, violence, segregation and poverty. Elections matter and so does the work that follows. Now is our chance, in Texas and around the country, to begin the work of democratic renewal and community building in service of the larger cause of justice. Come, let us build a new world together.
Peniel Joseph, Ph.D., is the Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and professor of history and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin.