By Nancy Churchill
Our country trembled the fourth week of June, as if from a series of earthquakes. One epic shift occurred as citizens demanded removal of the Confederate flag, a symbol of heritage to some, of domination and hate to others. Another minor tremor vindicated the Affordable Care Act when the Supreme Court repudiated the merits of a misinterpretation of that law. But the biggest shock came as SCOTUS decided in favor of marriage equality.
These tectonic shifts weren’t President Obama’s doing. Sure, they happened on his watch. Yes, he’d campaigned on “hope and change” in 2008. And yes, they will rightfully and happily be his presidential legacy. But he was roundly criticized as hope faded quickly and little changed in his first term under pressures he inherited from his predecessor, while his obstructionist opponents doubled down in support of the corporate class over the needs of the people.
Some suggest that the SCOTUS’ marriage equality decision repudiated the Constitution, creating new law. How absurd. SCOTUS cannot manufacture cases they adjudicate, they merely accept or reject them. Ordinary citizens created this case by challenging discriminatory laws, and with their lawyer, Mary Bonauto, pushed it up through the court system to culminate in this decision by these Supreme Court justices at this time. And as long as that process took those individuals, it followed decades of tireless political activism by thousands of people constantly under assault from an equally unrelenting backlash. Marriage equality couldn’t have happened any other way.
And that’s how democracy works, every time. When our Constitution was first ratified, its radical new idea of government by and for the people collided with the giant techtonic plate of tradition — rule by a wealthy few — a clash that continues to this day. The earth trembled and shuddered each time people demanded more and better representation: emancipation from slavery, women’s suffrage, the end of segregation and Jim Crow, civil rights. These advances were attributed to presidents and Supreme Courts along the way, yet not one of them could have happened without years of often deadly struggle by millions of ordinary people seeking true democracy.
The people of our time have been working toward “hope and change” decades before Obama. Politicians who cater to the monied class do not realize that their victories ultimately depend upon them jumping onto our bandwagon, not us onto theirs. Not one of our civil rights have been granted in a vacuum — we the people cannot afford to wait for Congressional action or Presidential mandates to “just happen.” We must eek out justice from our Constitution, the one living document that belongs to all of us, through seemingly endless struggle. It was decades of unwavering activism by the people that gave us these particular victories — the beginning of the end of the Confederate flag, a SCOTUS stamp of approval on marriage equality — that were merely the inevitable result of that struggle.
Democracy was served again, and the earth shook. And now we have a more perfect union.
Let us celebrate!