“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana’s famous words have been paraphrased by many, but the truth of them is obvious. Maybe that’s why age is our friend; we have a lot of history to call upon. Hopefully, we learn, grow and do a better job. I may have a rather naive assumption that all people aspire to be their best selves. I hold the same truth for our country. It is our collective goal to become the best we can be as a nation. In light of that, here is some fascinating history that corresponds to our current situation with amazing clarity.
One hundred years ago, in Washington, DC, protests took place that shook the nation. It was the culmination of a century of hurt and frustration about grave injustices. All of this was taking place in the middle of a pandemic. The irony of these parallel events cannot be ignored. The Spanish flu (later to be recognized as having its origins in Camp Funston in Kansas) was sweeping the world. One hundred ninety-five thousand people died in the United States in the month of October 1918 alone, but the worst was yet to come. The second wave was well underway in 1920 during the protesting. Eventually, the flu led to the deaths of 675,000 American citizens.
In the midst of all this, the protestors sat up headquarters in Lafayette Park outside the White House. For days they marched on the capitol to bring their cause before Congress and the President. At one point, the peaceful protestors were heckled and attacked by large crowds who resisted their movement. The U.S. Cavalry was called in for crowd control. Many law-abiding demonstrators were arrested and put in jail. Does all this sound familiar? These protests were the culmination of 100 years of effort to change the laws of the land. And finally, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote!
I am humbled that these women went out on the streets to make sure I had the right to vote, but ashamed that I take it for granted. That event happened just 28 years before I was born; I am the beneficiary of their passion for equal rights. Where will we be 28 or 100 years from now? My hope is that we will learn from our history and continually strive to be the best nation we can be.