As we head into another year in the long struggle between reform and reaction in our country, with conservatives and the Tea Party wielding new power in Washington, history offers some solace. Dark periods come and go. They can be overcome when those of us who are affronted by private greed and reactionary overreach stand together and fight for time-tested as well as innovative solutions to what plagues us, when we revitalize independent organizing and craft strategies to rebuild, revive and reclaim democracy.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who wrote an annual essay on civil rights for this magazine from 1961 to 1966, often spoke of how the arc of history, while long, bends toward justice. But King understood that it did not bend by itself. Social, cultural and political activism is what forces change, even in the most difficult times. We should not forget that when King began to emerge as a national figure, Republicans held the White House, Joe McCarthy still served in the Senate and almost every office in Alabama was held by a segregationist. Nothing about our moment is as daunting as that— except, perhaps, the challenge posed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which will only strengthen the domination of money and corporate power over our politics. But there, too, history provides inspiration: in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Senate was almost wholly owned by the railroad and other trusts. Still, the Progressive movement followed, taming them.
If the Progressives could tame the forces of money a century ago, and if King and his allies could bend the arc of history, so can we.
Gazing out over our current political terrain, it’s clear that we have a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve helped build a society that is more socially tolerant than it was a quarter-century ago, but when it comes to public policy, economic outcomes and control of government, the story is different. The broad movement of American politics in recent decades has been toward greater inequality, the discrediting of public institutions and a near idolatry of private markets at the expense of corporate accountability.
I believe this is a pivotal moment for The Nation. Launched in the days after the Civil War, in July 1865, this magazine is one of the few longstanding media institutions that have worked to bring about lasting social and political change. In the time ahead, we will need to rededicate ourselves to our mission by confronting and countering misinformation, bigotry and greed with tough, intelligent and principled journalism while sowing new and alternative—often heretical—ideas.
In every part of our nation and world there are people engaged in courageous activism, and they are brimming with good ideas. But too often they are not well connected to one another, or they lack a larger vision or strategic purpose. The Nation and TheNation.com will seek to act as a forum for strategic thinking—connecting movements and their members with ideas and strategies while providing a long-term vision of a more just and peaceful society and world.
In some ways, this work will necessarily be defensive or oppositional. We will have to protect Social Security, Medicare and other civilizing reforms and prevent them from being slashed at the national and state levels. We will have to defend the public sphere from assault. We must oppose an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, and we must expose the depredations and fallacies of the global "war on terror." And we will have to fight corporatist and callous Republicans, as well as those in the Democratic Party, who would diminish working- and middle-class security and increase inequality and poverty.