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From the Executive Director: From One Moment in Time to Our Next

By December 18, 2020January 8th, 2021No Comments

David Inoue

2020 has been one for the ages. February seemed pretty normal with JACL chapters across the country holding annual Day of Remembrance events. Before the end of the next week, a 25-year-old Black man by the name of Ahmaud Arbery would be lying dead in the street after being hunted and shot by his neighbors while out jogging in Georgia. Our own Kakehashi trip to Japan would be significantly affected by the nascent Covid-19 pandemic. Less than a month later, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, would be shot dead in her own apartment by the Louisville police.

As the social and economic pain continued to grow due to the coronavirus, the nation exploded with the brutal killing of George Floyd under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Thousands took to the streets to protest systemic injustice laid bare in the deaths of Arbery, Taylor, Floyd and many others. Others marched in protest of the public health measures to stem the spread of Covid-19,which had wreaked havoc on every person’s lives and the economic stability of the world.

As we moved into the second half of the year, this all culminated in the most contentious presidential election in any of our lifetimes, one that remains to be fully settled as millions refuse to accept the results. This has truly been a moment in time beyond description or expectation.

And yet, it is not unique. How far back does one want to go? The 2016 shooting of Philando Castile? The 2014 deaths of Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley and Eric Garner? Or more recently, just a few days ago, Casey Goodson. Unfortunately, the senseless killing of Black men and women has been with us and continues despite the moral outrage on display so powerfully this year.

Covid-19 has been an extraordinary event, but it has laid bare the incredible ordinariness of societal disparities that we have come to accept as normal. We have too long accepted the fundamental racial and socioeconomic disparities in education, job opportunities, wage rates, access to capital and, of course, treatment by the justice system.

Covid-19 has also unveiled the depths to which anti-Asian hatred can manifest itself. Approximately 3,000 incidents were reported through the self-reporting systems managed by several different APIA organizations.

All of this was openly promoted by President Donald Trump, who did more than anyone to sow division and continues to do so even after decisively losing last month’s election.

So, this is where we find ourselves as we come to the end of the year. Just over 81 million votes for Joe Biden and a little over 74 million votes for Trump, with many of those 74 million still believing the election was fraudulent at the suggestion of their candidate.

It is this deep division that is poisoning our country, and while it may be incited on the most part by our president, the response from the opposition can be just as toxic.

For the past four-plus years, “Build the Wall” has become the rallying cry for President Trump’s supporters. Just as effective in rousing his own crowds, the phrase became an anathema for those of us who opposed the wall as symbolic of the policies of the administration including the Muslim ban, child separation, family detention, closed borders, denaturalization and deportations. Our failure to achieve meaningful immigration reform brought us to the extreme policies of the Trump administration.

On the other hand, this summer’s protests for Black Lives Matter brought another rallying cry to “Defund the Police.” All of the anger over the lack of accountability and vigilantism of the police was focused into and through this simple phrase.

Just as powerful as this phrase was for the thousands of protestors to rally around this summer, it had a similarly powerful impact on those who struggle to understand that Black Lives Matter is not mutually exclusive to All Lives Matter or even Blue Lives Matter. When comprehensive justice reform is boiled down to Defund the Police, all that some people hear is that the police are to be eliminated.

It’s not a surprise that the Twitter presidency has led to us condensing our thoughts into under 280 characters. The media does not help much, as it is more concerned with whose ideas are winning public opinion, rather than actually analyzing those ideas.

Politicians are more concerned with getting retweeted than having legitimate debate, or more importantly, compromise. When each side entrenches around three-word slogans for their policy statements, compromise becomes impossible. The extremist idealism on both sides demands all or nothing, resulting in the latter.

President-Elect Biden ran on the idea that the collegial Senate he once served in could return, that relationships between Democrats and Republicans might once again allow landmark legislation like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

These past examples might pave the way for modern comprehensive immigration and justice reform legislation. Much has been made about what groups made up the margin for this election, but one group that was clearly a swing vote were Republicans who did cross the aisle to vote for Biden, especially those who voted for Trump in 2016.

For JACL, our legacy is one of seeking that bipartisan, or even better, nonpartisan agreement on civil rights. Our story of what happened during World War II is embraced by conservatives and liberals alike as one of the most egregious violations of the Constitution.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that provided redress for Japanese Americans was championed by leaders from both sides of the aisle and was signed by Ronald Reagan, an icon in the Republican Party. Years later, the Japanese American Confinement Sites program legislation was led by Bill Thomas, one of the most conservative members of Congress at the time.

It seems that once again, at this moment in time, we must mobilize as a community to ensure the legacy of Japanese American history is preserved for future generations to learn.

A new bipartisan bill, the Japanese American Confinement Education Act, will provide continued funding for the JACS program, in addition to creating a new museum-based education program.

We must further leverage the bipartisan support that exists for our priorities such as the JACE Act, to extend to other areas of importance. We must change the dynamics of this moment in time to one where we can bring divergent perspectives together to find areas of agreement to make progress toward recognizing the value of every in- dividual in this country and paving the way for all to succeed.

This moment that we have all been living and surviving through for the past year has the potential to change, and we must be part of that change.

We can hopefully move on to a new moment in time that we can celebrate and be proud of as “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”