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(Left) Marlene Smith, (Right) Hilton Smith | COURTESY PHOTOS

Playing the Race Card

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In the words of the late John Lewis, “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something. To do something … It is not enough to say it will get better by and by. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.” 

There are a lot of things that are not right these days. We are a politically divided country not at peace with ourselves. COVID-19 has made visible inequities in race, health care and income inequality nationwide.   

As Black community members in the Imperial Valley we have seen firsthand the impact of racism and inequality. We have also seen good people on all sides of the political spectrum work to make the Valley better. Black, White, Brown and Asian Americans of varying religious beliefs willing to stand up and have their voices heard and sit down to listen to each other.

In early June we were heartened to see over 400 people peacefully protest the death of George Floyd. The number of young people from all over the Valley was especially gratifying. Their voices along with the voices of our local police, ministers, and community activists made a strong and collective community statement.

Last week some of us drove across country to attend the non-violent commitment march in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Four were 20-somethings. One young person had never been out of the Imperial Valley. They are our children, our grandchildren and our future.

We need more people willing to stand up and fight for our community. We need more people to vote, more people to serve on local boards and committees, more people to ensure that all voices are represented. Events last week highlighted once again how important community involvement is to the health of our community.

Last week the Imperial County Democratic Central Committee passed a resolution that was false and divisive. It accused county officials of being racist. Racism is real. We are both acutely aware of that. But using the race card against county officials without conversations and efforts to resolve differences is serious and irresponsible. A newspaper headline is not a solution. Calling for resignations without trying to resolve problems does not serve the community.

We serve on a number of committees and work with community groups to make Imperial Valley a better place including the Democratic Committee. That doesn’t mean that we have all the answers or that we are always right. What it does mean is that we try to strengthen the community not divide it, to work for justice and not bring injustices upon others. That includes saying we are wrong when we are wrong and pointing out injustice no matter where on the political spectrum it comes from.

Well over half the registered voters in Imperial County are Democrats. The actions of the County Democratic Central Committee do not serve those voters. As members of the committee and the community, we do not agree with these actions.  U.S. Representative Vargas, And Assemblymen Garcia and Vargas have standing representation on the committee, but their representatives never attend. The chain of federal state and local Democratic continuity and leadership is broken. The committee needs their leadership and participation. We need more participation and new voices. 

When John Lewis spoke about getting into “good trouble, necessary trouble,” he was talking about standing up against injustice. Good trouble is messy. It means taking things on and speaking out even when it is uncomfortable. There is a well-known advertisement in Spanish that translates “if the hard things in life were easy, everyone would do them.” Standing up against injustice whether it is perpetrated by family, friends, or political colleagues is not easy. It takes courage. It takes a willingness to say something is wrong, whether it is by a Democrat or Republican, by a friend or a foe. Good trouble means getting involved, stepping up and speaking out. It is the only way change can be made. 

Marlene Thomas is chairperson of the Imperial Valley Social Justice Committee and Hilton Smith is organizer of Black Lives Matter of Imperial County.

This story is featured in the Sep 3, 2020 e-Edition.