Like many years, 2016 had its fair share of highs and lows. On a personal level, I’ll carry long-lasting joy remembering my daughters singing with the Oompa-Loompas in Willy Wonka at the Admiral Theater.
But from a national perspective, 2016 was, unquestionably, a difficult year.
It was difficult to see our country divided by the polarizing presidential campaign. But the year’s challenges went beyond any one politician.
As someone who believes the strength of our nation comes from its diversity, it’s a difficult year when good Americans who are Hispanic or Muslim are stigmatized and made to feel like less equal members of our society.
As the grandson of immigrants who fled Europe after the Holocaust, it was difficult to see some politicians scapegoat refugees, most of whom are women and children.
That said, I fundamentally believe that 2017 can be a significantly better year. I say that because I know that we, as Americans, are so much better than our politics right now.
I saw that when I visited Bainbridge High School and got to hear students advocate policies to reduce suffering around the world. I saw that when I joined volunteers clearing brush at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial and discussed the value of protecting civil liberties. I saw it when I visited a local synagogue where congregants expressed care and concern for their fellow Americans and a desire to see us protect this planet.
After such a tough year, I’ve heard a lot of folks ask, “Now what?” Our Constitution calls for the peaceful transition of power. That’s something we all respect. But the Constitution also calls for protection of civil rights, religious freedom, and a free press. We need to respect that too.
Dr. King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” But it doesn’t bend on its own. It takes work. And we have a lot of work to do.
There are too many families struggling to make ends meet and too many small businesses just trying to keep their lights on. A status quo that has left too many people feeling left behind needs to be changed so we can build an economy that works better for everyone. That will continue to be my focus.
We need to fix our politics too. After a rancorous election, it’s time for our country to move forward. The boat moves best with all oars in the water, rowing in the same direction; the oars can’t be out of the water with folks beating each other over the heads.
History has shown that America can accomplish anything when we put our minds to it and work together. Here’s hoping those dreams become a reality in the new year.
Congressman Derek Kilmer represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.