Letter to the editor: In a time of us-versus-them politics, let’s take a page from RBG’s book

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A portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. — photo by Simmie Knox

By James Wetzel

The Notorious RBG reminds us all how to effect lasting change.

When asked what advice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had for young women today, she answered with: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

This advice is more important than ever, it seems, as political opponents increasingly take to approaches that divide rather than unite. “Us vs. Them!” they shout, trying to convince you that there is only one side to a debate, and that the other side has no redeeming value.

This political divide-and-conquer approach is the cornerstone of Mitch McConnell’s leadership — we know how well that is working out — and while it has its virtues for short term wins, those wins come at the cost of long term gains. If any of us are interested in developing this nation and improving its standing (even just our small part of it), we must take RBG’s words to heart, and earnestly pursue its commanding message.

Fascism breeds resistance, and the more ruthlessly we fight for our cause, the more difficult it will be to secure victory for whatever it is we hope to achieve. This recognition — that, by and large, enemies are created by our own doing — has helped me avoid countless headaches in my existence while also being successful. Success does not have to be hard fought, difficult as it may be.

Barack Obama referenced this idea when he said in an interview: “I am always best as a counter puncher. … That actually serves me well. I give people the benefit of the doubt, I try to understand their point of view; if I perceive that they try to take advantage of that, then I will — crush them. [laughter] That was just a joke, maybe, sort of, kind of.”

His point was that we should walk softly, and carry a big stick. Build consensus, build a following, carry a big stick and wait patiently for the right time before you use it. In this current political climate we need all the allies and friends we can get to come together and improve our world.

When challenged personally, I reflect on the words of Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata,” a poem that reminds readers to “go placidly amid the noise and haste”:

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
They too have their story.

Erhmann encourages readers to be gentle with themselves as well:

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 230.

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