Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Through compromise and fear.
I have as much right
As the other fellow has
On my two feet
And own the land.
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom
when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
Is a strong seed
In a great need.
I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.
Langston Hughes, Democracy, from Selected Poems
If citizenship and democracy exist first as an act of imagination then we have the power to imagine ourselves anywhere. It is up to us to chart the way forward but what will we choose? The dark visions of distrust, fear, and militarism or the expansive dream of shared responsibility, unity, and freedom? Hope in human goodness is a compass we can use to navigate home to each other and away from despair.
Some days it all feels like too much, the news pours out a steady stream of tragedy and we just want to hide away from it all. That is when we need the poets to remind us of how our lives are seeds; freedom is the garden; democracy is the trellis we climb together to reach the light; the harvest is each other. Vote with your feet, with your hands, with confidence, become a citizen invested with the power of history. Imagine a future where oppression, intolerance, and despair are non-existent words.
We want leaders in our community. And what people will say, say, “Well, if we can get rid of Fannie Lou,” said, “we can get rid of the trouble.” But what they don’t know, freedom is like an eating cancer, if you kill me, it will break out all over the place. We want ours and we want ours now…we are determined that one day we’ll have the power of the ballot. And the sooner you go to the courthouse, the sooner we’ll have it…I don’t want to hear you say, “Honey, I’m behind you.” Well, move, I don’t want you back there. Because you could be 200 miles behind. I want you to say, “I’m with you.” And we’ll go up this freedom road together.
Fannie Lou Hamer, “We’re On Our Way”, delivered in Mississippi, 1964
Voting for leaders and holding them accountable is just one tiny part of being a citizen. Democracy will not come until we are able to say “I’m with you” and walk with each other side by side, then we can all go up this freedom road together.
Langston Hughes, Democracy, Selected Poems
“We’re On Our Way” delivered by Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi, 1964