Now that all of the major press organizations have called Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the winners of the election, it is, as my father often said, “all over but the shouting.” President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris both made clear in their victory speeches Saturday evening that their wish is for the country to move quickly beyond the shouting and onto a more constructive path of engagement, despite the large differences that remain in the electorate. Those hopeful and comforting words are much easier to say than to be realized. They are words the country needs to hear and respond to, but we know they will fall on many ears not ready for their message.
The challenge of moving our country forward is not one we can afford to ignore. We are all weary of the toxic political discourse, the shocking disregard for valid information and science, the pandemic, economic collapse, and the racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. And without pretending they don’t exist, we should nonetheless pause a moment to celebrate the indisputable fact that over 145 million Americans voted in the election. Monumental efforts by Stacey Abrams and her organization, Fair Fight Action, resulted in over 800,000 new registered voters this election cycle. I am eager to see if Lehman College student voter turnout exceeded the 53 percent of the 2018 election. I’ll be very surprised if it didn’t.
The large voter turnout is a sign robust civic engagement in our country. It reflects a widespread determination to make democracy work through our long-established process, something Vice President-elect Harris emphasized in her victory speech. And we can’t help but note the shattering of barriers that her election represents.
We have learned over the past four years that the seemingly well-established structures of our democracy, the Constitution, the laws and judiciary, the institutions of governance, and even elections, only work properly when they are consistently utilized and defended. Many avenues for their perversion can be found, and only an alert and engaged citizenry can ensure that they function as they should. We have also learned that many of the tenets of our country that we assumed were inviolable are not. That includes the intellectual work of the academy. Here is Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz in her weekly briefing in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Friday:
"Trump's presidency was filled with executive orders that challenged higher education. During his first days in office, he banned travel from six majority-Muslim nations. Later, months into the coronavirus pandemic, he signed an executive order to suspend temporary work visas through the end of the year. … He also championed executive orders on free speech and against diversity training."
As the president of a public institution, I am not taking a partisan position to condemn these actions, as well as the systematic disregard, disparaging and even silencing of scientists and scientific research in the past four years, particularly with regard to COVID-19 and climate change. There has been an all-out assault on knowledge, free-investigation and truth-telling, which is antithetical to our values as an institution of learning and should always be unambiguously rejected.
My goal, and I hope our collective goal, is for us to move forward after the election as an academic community with a deep commitment to our borough and our city, understanding that:
1. Voting and unceasing participation in civic life is essential, and that without them, democracy cannot thrive;
2. Our job is to educate and learn in an environment of open and respectful discourse where there is respect for everyone, regardless of a person's point of view;
3. We should redouble our efforts to fulfill America's grand promise of liberty and justice for all, using our academic and educational tools to address the systemic issues that stand in the way -- including racism and all forms of bigotry, and health, economic, educational and opportunity inequities;
4. We are in it for the long haul, understanding that all meaningful change takes time and may not even be apparent in our lifetimes; and
5. We must be a caring community that looks after every individual within it and respects those outside of it as well.
Please join me in celebrating this election and seizing its outcome as an opportunity to advance what we value and hold dear.