Rev. Al Sharpton, President, National Action Network, Black Voices Sunday Magazine
There were many who were surprised by the 2012 Presidential election. In simple terms, they didn’t expect us to show up but we did, and we helped propel this President to victory for four more years. As leaders meet with the President this week, and as we fast approach negotiations on the fiscal cliff, we must remain focused on protecting vital American ideals like Medicare, Medicaid, quality education and other concepts that help define who we are as a nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by those on the right that can’t accept the outcome of this election, or by those on the left that are caught up in their own egos and personal gripes. We didn’t just blindly vote and win this election for a particular Party or person; the majority sided with a policy that benefits the people and not special interests. It’s as important now as it perhaps ever was that we continue to concentrate on that platform and keep our eyes on the prize.
In 1994, Dr. Wyatt Walker, who previously served as chief strategist for the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and Chair of National Action Network’s Board of Directors), took me on a trip to South Africa as an election observer. I’ll never forget the shock of seeing members of the left denouncing Nelson Mandela for having negotiations with the White Afrikaners, or some Afrikaners attacking Mandela and calling him a terrorist and extremist. Dr. Walker told me then, that’s the price of leadership.
During the civil rights era back here in the United States, Dr. King himself was scrutinized by some in the Black power movement for having working relationships with President Kennedy and President Johnson. And of course, we all know very well the depth of vicious attacks he bravely fought against from conservatives on the right. Again, the price of leadership.
Almost immediately following the 2012 election, thousands signed a petition supporting Texas’ ‘peaceful withdrawal from the United States of America’ in order to ‘create its own NEW government.’ Instead of working to find solutions to some serious challenges that face all of us like the looming fiscal cliff, unemployment, inadequate schools and other economic, political and social dilemmas, those signing this outrageous petition and those who resort to mocking the President aren’t interested in resolving our difficulties. Whether it be for ingrained biases or an inability to accept the outcome of the 2012 election, these folks are setting us further back and further apart.
As President Obama begins to tackle some of the looming troubles ahead, those of us who support programs for the middle-class and poor will continue to fight for the cause of justice. But we will also remember that negotiating and speaking to the opposition is a necessary part of any democratic society. While the President will undoubtedly face resistance from the extremes of both sides, we know that true leadership requires extreme patience, dedication and a willingness to find mutual agreement. Everyone won’t be satisfied 100 percent of the time, but as Dr. Walker once told me, that is the price of leadership.
The days ahead will require commitment and tolerance from all of us, but we will not forget why we voted for this President. We will not forget the ideals that make this country remarkable and what separate us from other places around world. We will continue to fight for those who may not have a voice, and we will deflect negativity from all sides. We must be strong enough to emulate those stronger than us like Mandela, like Dr. King.
There’s an old civil rights song that goes: ‘Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on. Hold on, hold on, keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.’ No matter what, those who want our nation to succeed must always remember to keep our collective eyes on that prize.