VIEW: Practicing Unity

Suzann Willhite

I heard President Biden’s call for unity, justice, and equality. In his inauguration speech Biden acknowledged that, “speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. … Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we all are created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart.”

Biden’s call for unity in the “United” States reminded me of my mother’s phone calls for unifying our big family. 

I am the youngest of 14 children. My oldest sibling is 20 years older than me, so I didn’t grow up particularly knowing the oldest ones.

Mom wanted us to know one another, and for the grandkids and spouses to connect with one another. Yet how she said it was to call the adult children and say, “I will see you at the family reunion” or “you are coming to Thanksgiving dinner.”

It was more of a statement than a request. Looking back, I realize that my mother valued our ability to be unified as a family, even if we did not quite all grow up together.

Like my mom, I value unity with my family. I also seek justice and equality for all persons. And I am willing to work for it.

My personal passion, for many years, has been to do what I can to add the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States and Minnesota Constitutions.

ERA would guarantee legal equality to all persons. There are still too many people who oppose this concept. However, ERA is a big push and a pen stroke away from becoming the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Minnesota, Republicans in the Senate majority will not give the state ERA a hearing or allow a vote by Minnesotans.

I know that even though constitutional laws provide legal foundations and protections, that does not mean that people’s minds and hearts change. We still need to work to unite on common values.

Unity doesn’t mean that we all have to agree on everything. Unity is not Communism, or the government running every aspect of one’s life.

Synonyms for unity are: balance, harmony, cooperation, working together. I have committed myself to work towards unity and equality in our divided nation and our divided state — including my family.

Last month in VIEW, I wrote that I need to work with organizations and people with a shared vision of a more fair, just, and equitable world.

I also need to work with people I don’t yet know or agree with in order to create more fairness, justice, and equity. As we know, working with people who have opposing views is hard.

I did talk to people who did not share my values before the election. I called hundreds of Minnesotans, and then Georgia voters, to ask about their voting plans and talk about political issues. It was a challenge to get people to talk. I asked and listened to what voters told me about their hopes — about better jobs, wages, healthcare, and education. I also heard their fears — of more taxes, immigrants, gun laws, and “defunding the police.” I heard first-hand the deep divisions and political polarization that is our reality.

People have always been polarized politically — which supports a two-party system, and sometimes more. Violence and hate crimes are not merely polarization, however — and they escalated after the 2016 election. This was clearly displayed by the insurrection terrorists at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Looking at the red and blue map of the United State of America on election night, I thought about my love of travel and my fear of those “red” states. Can I travel alone in states where a majority voted for Trump? Can I talk to my siblings in Minnesota who voted for Trump or believe in QAnon?

Yes I can. I will try.

I started by calling a couple of my sisters who I haven’t talk to for months. I am trying to reconnect on a personal level to get to know them again. Listening has been most important for me to do. Asking about family history, stories, our siblings and the weather are all easier topics as a starting point — no controversial or political topics.

I will try because I want unity, justice, and equality for all persons in our country. I will try because I am willing to work for my values and honor my mom’s value of family.