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Montana Viewpoint: Working as one, there are better days ahead

Jim Elliott

We are at a good place in history, and we are at that good place because we are facing adversity together. It is sad to think that many had to die to spur us to action, but good times don’t seem to move us forward as a people, bad times do.

Getting through the pandemic of Covid-19 requires working together as a people, so people are wearing face masks, not to protect themselves, but to protect others. Recognizing the injustices done to others, exemplified by the deaths of George Floyd and many innocent blacks at the hands of the police, Americans are marching to safeguard the rights, not just of themselves, but of others.

I am amazed that people of all walks of life in America are standing together in affirmation that the dignity of all human beings is important. But I am more amazed at the speed with which this unity has coalesced. Perhaps that’s not quite the way to put it. For many of us, this has taken a very long time to come together, but once it began to gel, it seemed it was just waiting to happen.

While in this particular case it is centered around the expression, “Black Lives Matter,” it is bigger even than that because all lives matter. In the 1960s, Americans talked about the Negro problem. My best friend in those years was black, he said that in his view it was a white problem.

I did not really understand that at the time, but I think I do now. It is one thing that a group of people want to enjoy their constitutional rights, it is another for the ruling class to allow them to enjoy them.

Over the years there have been many groups of Americans who have demanded their ability to enjoy the rights hypothetically guaranteed to all Americans. These rights have had the name of the groups seeking those rights appended to them, “Women’s,” “Gay”, etc. But the fact is that they are all one and the same — human rights — and that the denying of them is all one and the same – oppression.

It is not so much any particular group of people who are the oppressors as much as it is the status quo of that particular time. But one thing is always clear, the enjoyment of those rights is not given, it has to be seized and it can only be seized by convincing enough people that an injustice is being done that needs to be ended.

What is curious to me is that people seem to think of the enjoyment of rights as something finite, something to be hoarded because there is not enough of it to go around. That if those rights are extended to a new group of people then the rights of the grantors, as it were, is somehow diminished.

What is perhaps more to the point is that with rights comes power, and in one sense the power of the grantors may be diminished, but in another sense, it is made greater because it is shared among more of us.

It may be apparent that I am just thinking out loud, and that is true. But if sharing my thinking process with others causes them think, too, whether or not they come to the same conclusion, then something good is happening.

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Viewpoint appears in weekly papers across Montana and online at missoulacurrent.com.