In our world challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, there exists a need for heightened community activism in ways that meet our safety needs.
As I continue to engage in areas of community concern, people often respond by accusing me of being a liberal activist. I am fairly positive that being a liberal or an activist is not yet a crime in Oklahoma, so I confess up to my liberal leanings. While my conservative friends believe in the value of established practices in politics and society, I work to make positive changes within the social and political structure.
However, if we place the conservative principles alongside the progressive change tenants of liberalism, the differences between the two appear to be small. Seemingly the disparity arises in the interpretation of core principles shared by liberals and conservatives, subsequently leading to disagreement and conflict. Consequently, we end up in a world torn apart by politics, economics, race and religion.
We have been here before. In 1968, I was a federal agent on assignment in Washington, D.C., at a time when it appeared the fabric of our nation was being shredded. Our nation’s capital, along with the rest of the nation, was enmeshed in Vietnam war protests, the anguish and violence following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Poor People’s March, the murder of Bobby Kennedy along with economic and social upheaval. Here I experienced firsthand the nature and significance of activism in a democratic society.
More than half a century later we have seen some progress even though, in the clutches of a deadly virus, we are still struggling with the same issues of economic, social and racial injustice.
In our current divided situation, words matter. Freedom, justice, love, peace, peaceful coexistence are words of substance and meaning. These words feel good. They are calming, healing, dignified and, most important, they are words to live by and to provoke action.
Acting in pursuit of freedom, justice and peace is vital if these words are to have meaning. However, actions require us to choose a side and take a stand. The tension between progressive and conservative ideology should become irrelevant when people’s lives are at risk. So, how do we choose sides, survive a pandemic and keep the peace at the same time?
To be an activist and meet this challenge requires you to be informed and to understand the cause you support. In this age of intense social and commercial media, one must exert extra effort to separate truth from fiction and facts from propaganda. The success of activism in any arena depends on a combination of informing oneself, speaking out, educating the public and taking direct action.
Many Tulsans are deeply immersed in the practical challenges of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic while, at the same time, ensuring peace and justice for all.
When engaged in these issues, we are faced with questions regarding the scope and direction of any actions we choose to take or support. While the ends we pursue must be just, so too must the means we employ to achieve those ends. Each of us is responsible to actively pursue justice, equality and freedom for all, regardless of how others choose to behave.
We all have within us the capacity to be an upstander. As an upstander, our actions must be anchored in respect for the dignity and rights of every individual and applied with wisdom and fairness. The time is now. Your voice is important, make it heard. Facts are important, defend them. Above all, share your strength.
Drew Diamond, former chief of the Tulsa Police Department, is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces by advisory board members appear in this space most weeks.