Election 2020 Requires Imagination and Bravery

Here, in this room, men and women gathered to confront the moral and ethical challenges of the day. They discussed. They debated. And ultimately, they launched a challenge to the oppression of British rule and started a Revolution.

Here, as they took their places among these pews, the spirit of the American imagination was formed, meeting by meeting, vote by vote, speech by speech.

—Elizabeth Warren, New Year’s Eve speech in Boston, MA

Elizabeth Warren stands, smiling, in front of an enormous American flag, a mic in her right hand, her left raised upwards.

I honestly cannot turn my face towards the news today, when an entire continent burns, and when a man elected on spite and fear lashes out mindlessly, unable to see farther than his own face in a mirror, endangering human lives in outgoing ripples of consequences.

Primaries should be about hope. Primaries should be the time when we vote for the future we truly want, not merely for harm reduction. My vote is still not a valentine — no candidate will ever align with me 100 percent — but I vote for the person whose vision of the future aligns best with my own.

I feel that so many problems we are experiencing come down to a failure of imagination. A failure to imagine the results of climate change until they are upon us. A failure to envision a future without fossil fuels. A failure to conceptualize the lives of other people beyond our personal experiences. A failure to consider a time when no one race is a majority, holding onto power, but instead everyone works together for the collective good. A failure to see that we are surrounded by abundance if we share with each other, that the act of sharing is abundance unto itself.

Elizabeth Warren has “that vision thing,” an ability to see the crisis our nation is mired in in its full complexity: racial injustice, economic inequality, corruption that is the natural result of money in bed with power, the devaluation of human lives. At a time when so many Americans can’t seem to think beyond a single news cycle, Warren has the power of imagination to grasp the root causes of what ails the US and see our way out of it.

But she also has the pragmatism that people admired so much in Barack Obama: tangible goals and roadmaps to achieve them.

Other Democratic primary candidates have fallen victim to Americans’ failure of imagination. One by one, candidates who are not women and are not white have had to drop out, because we are having a hard time imagining a non-white, non-male candidate beating Trump, who is a walking and talking epitome of toxic white supremacist masculinity. Even though our last President was a Black man. Even though our last Presidential candidate won the popular vote in the face of misogyny, a decades-long targeted campaign by the GOP, Russian interference, and a stupid decision by the head of the FBI.

I see Democratic voters being ruled by their fears so far in this election campaign. Instead of staking out a strong territory for our values — like affordable and accessible healthcare, an economy that works for all Americans and not just the rich, equal protection under the law for all Americans and not just the rich, reproductive freedom and autonomy for everyone, education for all our kids and NO kids in cages, and a livable future on this planet — we are not paying attention to what WE want, but how Democratic messages play with Trump’s base. This is a losing strategy.

I hope you read what Warren says here, about the imagination and faith of a young enslaved African woman named Phillis Wheatley. At the time, many white people wanted to compromise on slavery, but to people who were enslaved, whether slavery was right or wrong was never in question.

I want to tell you about one of the people who sat in this very room. A young girl. A young, enslaved girl named Phillis Wheatley.

Born in West Africa, Phillis was kidnapped by slave traders and brought to New England in 1761. From a young age it was clear that Phillis was an extraordinary person. She mastered English, Latin, Greek and English literature at a time when enslaved people could be condemned to death for learning. As she entered her teen years, she became a writer. Back in the early 1770s, as she sat in this church, in these pews, Phillis scoured the holy scripture for the words she needed to give voice to her visions and to spark her imagination.

She imagined a world that did not yet exist, but a world she could see. She penned ideals of a better America. Ultimately, she inspired leaders like George Washington himself. She showed through her work the power of imagination to help fuel a revolution.

Week after week, Phillis came to this room and imagined. Years before the Revolutionary War, she became the first Black woman to publish a book of poetry in America. Her imagination is woven into the tapestry of America’s story.

What kind of bravery did it take to end slavery? What kind of moral conviction did it take to insist on equal rights in a culture arrayed against it? What strength of imagination did it take to manifest a United States without slavery?

This is what we need now. My words have less to do with a specific candidate than an urgent need to be bold, to to take a stand, to fight FOR the people we love instead of compromise with the people we fear.

So, just for a moment, here in this place of ideas that took root and shaped a nation, here on the eve of a New Year, let us come together to imagine. Imagine what our country will look like, imagine what your own life will look like, when we finally turn this page in our history.

Remember, for people suffering the most under this Administration, waiting for a future date for relief seems like an insult after years of suffering already. We waited for slow progress under Obama just to see it all undone, because no one took the Nazi wing of the GOP seriously. Now Stephen Miller is in the White House, and children have died at the border. There is no “middle ground” when it comes to hate against Black and brown people, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, Muslims and Jewish people and other religious minorities, and poor people.

Now I know some of you may be thinking — imagination? Imagining alone won’t be enough. And you are right.

But imagination is powerful. It forces us to contemplate change in our lives; to begin to expect change. Taking the time to see ourselves and our world better than they are today sparks urgency in our hearts and determination in our minds.

It may surprise you, but we change people’s minds when we take a strong position for what is morally right, not when we hedge “both sides.”

So today we come together to imagine.

The time to take a stand is NOW. Remember, there are more of us. If we want to insist on America being the land of the free, now is when we must be brave.

1837 drawing of Phillis Wheatley in closeup. She has brown skin, short tightly coiled hair, a white dress, teardrop earrings.
1837 drawing of Phillis Wheatley in closeup. She has brown skin, short tightly coiled hair, a white dress, teardrop earrings.

Writer, activist, inclusion and equity consultant. Parenting, immigration, LGBTQ+, racial justice. Patreon.com/jorjorian. Pub list: www.anooshjorjorian.com.