Speaking out: Graduates, ask not what your country can do for you
Graduation season is a time to ponder: What does the future hold for these students? Knowing the state our nation and the world, as I sat at dinner with some contemporaries -- most of whom have grown kids and grandchildren -- we all expressed frustration over what the future looks like for the generations following us.
Though I have a lot of confidence in young people and their ability to have open minds and take on the future, their plates will be full and, in the short term, they face so many challenges! We all have in life, of course, but the country we live in has changed -- and it's likely there are more changes ahead for our kids and grandkids.
We are living in a nation with hard divisions -- divisions more pronounced than most of us can remember.
There are still Americans who don't believe the last presidential election was legitimate; we witnessed the insurrection on Jan. 6 that we can only hope does not happen again.
We have a Supreme Court that, as a consequence of past elections, is prepared to erode long-standing rights, such as limiting women's choices over their own bodies. We can foresee other limits based on the projected right-to-privacy erosion: contraception, marriage equality, LGBTQ rights and possibly more.
We have a gun culture like no other nation, where the courts have broadened the interpretation of the Second Amendment and limited firearms restrictions. We also have a Senate -- with several members beholden to the NRA -- that has failed to support reasonable gun violence prevention measures -- supported by most Americans -- while kids are shot with AR-15s in their schools.
We have seen states pass laws making it harder to vote, particularly for people of color; a Supreme Court that took teeth out of the Voting Rights Act; and a Senate that has been unable pass legislation to better protect our sacred right to vote.
We have a climate crisis that affects not just our nation, but the entire world and the air we all breathe, but we have not seen Washington step up to the plate to provide the world leadership that is so desperately needed.
We have seen police use excessive, sometimes lethal, force disproportionately against people of color, but our nation's leaders can't seem to agree on meaningful reforms to address the problem.
We see Dreamers and others who can meaningfully contribute to our country denied a path to citizenship, and other immigrants who seek refuge in our nation treated with disdain.
We see racism and antisemitism on the rise, and conspiracy theories amplified by political leaders while others fail to condemn them.
We have health, education and social safety net issues that are not being properly addressed. We have a tax system, riddled with loopholes, tilted in favor of those at the top of the economic pyramid and not as favorable to those who may be struggling.
We continue to grapple with a global pandemic and its ongoing impacts.
This is only the tip if the iceberg. With the midterm elections on the horizon and based on historical patterns, we may well see a significant change in the make up of Congress, with possibly more contractions of rights and less support for addressing our needs. Knowing the diverse makeup and voting patterns in certain states, the challenge of maintaining rights or changing them in a positive way is formidable. This is not a pretty picture.
What can we do? What can current and future graduates do? First, we must recognize it will not be easy to turn things around. We must recognize that there is much to take on, so we will need to prioritize and prepare for the long haul.
We need to accept this will take commitment; we must also understand that, on an ongoing basis, we need to educate others and raise awareness of the difficult direction in which we are headed and the effect it will have on the future of our kids and grandkids.
In the short-term, we need to get out and vote like our lives and the lives of our families and their future depends on it. We must understand that, if we do not, things can only get worse and it will only get harder and harder to turn things around.
We need to realize that support for candidates who can move us in a positive direction means paying attention and supporting such candidates in other parts of the country as well.
As for our graduates, they need to each focus on what they care about and where they, on a daily basis, can make a difference. Likewise, they need to understand that our democracy depends on them and their votes and the votes of their contemporaries.
I have always had lot of faith in the young people of our nation; I have the hope that their collective efforts can make a difference. What we hope to see in terms of getting our nation back on a track that will provide a better life for those we care about will not be easy, but it is clearly worth the effort.
• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and a former Buffalo Grove village president. If you are interested in possibly discussing this topic further over Zoom with Elliott and others, you can email him at email@example.com.