One of the great privileges of being your congressman is the occasion I have to meet and talk with young people. Often, they come to my office in groups or I travel to various campuses and classrooms to hear their views, understand the issues of importance to them, and/or to debate with them about my political positions and beliefs.
Pre-pandemic, I had the wonderful opportunity to have one such meeting. These young students were seeking some clarity and understanding as to how a political nation moves from the dignity and hope of the Obama presidency to the erratic, divisive era of Trump.
One student suggested that black people didn't vote and just took for granted that things were going to be okay. Another student suggested that black folks didn't go out to vote because they were just tired.
I listened and heard the sentiment.
But I said to them and will say again to our black community today: we can’t afford to be tired because racism, oppression, and inequity never take a day off. And as these last three years have taught us, everything will not just be okay. We have lost so much and continue to have much to lose.
I know it is disheartening when we again fight the same battles our mothers and fathers fought. It hurts like hell when just as we begin to heal from the death of Michael Brown, we witness the tragic murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. As a citizen of these United States, it angers me, but as a black man with a black son and a black daughter, it rocks me to my core.
It can be daunting to see us once again fighting for voting rights. Surely that battle was fought and won a generation ago. But those who seek to oppress us are actively using this pandemic to disenfranchise us and lessen our voices. By any means necessary they seek to increase their power by making voting not easier, but harder. That viewpoint is the exact opposite of the democratic republic that we have evolved to be. We can’t sleep, Black America. Not this time.
If it were solely within my power, I would certainly eradicate all the ills in our city, county, state and nation. I fight in Washington, D.C. like a warrior in the ring for legislation to better our lives through the federal channels as you have elected me to do. But I also conduct investigations, review documents, hold hearings, draft legislation, direct funding and build alliances. Often, and sometimes most importantly, along with my colleagues I prevent terrible laws from being enacted. Because I know we are entitled to jobs, justice and wealth. We built this country and made it great.
But we must continue the fight. We can’t afford to be tired. We and our children will pay a heavy price for four more years of the current administration. We can’t grow weary. We are a resilient people. We must rise up again with that same vitality that put a black man in the White House.
Let us be an example to those young people and show them that we will not roll over and give up. And we certainly cannot assume that all will be well and not show up.
I am voting, and I refuse to disappoint those students. I’m going to continue the fight for justice, healthcare, economic equality, education and a clean climate. Don't be weary. Join me. I'm ready to continue the fight. You and this community are worth every battle and every scar.
U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) represents Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.