I have to admit, I am breathing easier. I am feeling hopeful after hearing President Biden say these simple but truthful words: “This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope, of renewal and resolve.”
Most profoundly, I am relieved that with these words, we are turning a page in American and world history. We now have new, kinder — and, so importantly — more diverse leaders of the United States of America. Leaders with a sharp focus on defending our democracy and achieving justice for all. Leaders who see America as part of the world, not standing apart from it.
My spirits are also lifted up today by the beautiful words of Amanda Gorman, our youngest poet laureate to read at an inauguration, in her poem, “The Hill We Climb”:
Being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
Without hyperbole, today we start writing a new chapter in American history, two weeks after an attempted insurrection. Today, we step in and begin repairing our broken world.
And we — you, me and all of our supporters — are ushering in a new era in our indispensable, decades-long work with our partners around the world to create a new tomorrow.
The last four years, the last 12 months — and most especially, the past 11 weeks since the November 3rd presidential election — have been sobering, teaching us about the fragility of democracy both here and around the world.
Four years… during which we heard words of hatred from the highest office in the land and witnessed actions that hurt our neighbors at home and the communities we support worldwide.
Twelve months… during which we witnessed four hundred thousand deaths from COVID in our own country and more than two million deaths worldwide, with no viable plan to stop the spread of a deadly virus.
Eleven weeks… during which our democracy was under attack after a free and fair presidential election, endangering the very republic that allows us to live free and to fight for a better union and a better world.
While you could have lost hope, instead you stood together with our partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to advance human rights, fight racism and hate and end poverty. You inspired our activists worldwide with your support, as they, in turn, inspired you.
As you always have, you drew on our eternal Jewish values — repairing our broken world, pursuing justice, respecting the dignity of every person — we worked with every fiber in our being to ensure that the most brutal chapters of history are not repeated or visited upon anyone, anywhere.
As Amanda Gorman shared today, we have many hills to climb, but with a new lift in our step. Together with you and our partners in 18 countries and the social movements they lead, we will:
- Defend democratic rights and strengthen fraying democracies by supporting human rights activists around the world.
- Fight together with those whose rights are most often trampled upon – women and girls, religious and ethnic minorities, Black and brown people, indigenous communities and LGBTQI+ people.
- Help bring this deadly pandemic to an end, while ensuring that the most vulnerable to infection, illness and death are protected, cared for and never left behind.
- Root out the social and economic inequities that the pandemic has amplified and never allow a pandemic to serve as an excuse to crush the hopes of humans and human rights.
- Stop climate change and the destruction of life on earth as we know it by supporting indigenous communities and local farmers in caring for their lands and waters; and
- Stand strong against racism and all forms of hate and intolerance, as they have no place in our lives or in this world.
That’s our work with you for the coming years. Together with the advocates you support worldwide through AJWS, we are writing a new, more hopeful chapter in history.
We are climbing hills together, supporting the very people who make real change happen.
Let’s join hand in hand with one another and our partners around the world and climb the highest hills we can find.
Robert Bank is President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, the leading Jewish organization working to promote human rights in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.. Robert has spent his career championing human rights as an attorney, activist and leader. He joined AJWS as Executive Vice President in 2009 and previously served in New York’s municipal government and in the leadership of GMHC—one of the world’s leading organizations combatting HIV/AIDS. Robert has been honored with GMHC’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Partners in Justice Award from AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.