One way to distract ourselves from the threats of the coronavirus pandemic would be to focus on all the unfinished work we started 244 years ago to form “a more perfect union.” This was the imposing goal laid out in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution in 1787. It included the ideals of justice for all, domestic tranquility, general welfare and to secure the “blessings” of liberty and prosperity.

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

In recent weeks, we have seen protest marches in our streets, some angry confrontations over police brutality, the tearing down of Confederate statues and the shouting of rhetoric filled with anti-racism slogans, controlling labels and either/or ultimatums. Maybe this is how we rekindle our pursuit of a more perfect union, or maybe it’s not. What do you think?

The authors of our Constitution banded together to free themselves from the tyranny of England’s King George and to create a new republic “of, by and for the people.” Their declaration of independence proclaimed that “all men are created equal” and no single man — not even a king — is above the law.

What our children and others are telling us in their protest rallies is that our imperfect union has been excluding people of color and others for almost 2½ centuries. We are being told we have some old lessons we need to unlearn and we have new ones we must now absorb.

We must be careful with our rhetoric. We must admit we need to stop talking past one another and begin to actually start talking to, and with, one another.

Last week the county’s Board of Supervisors established an Office of Equity. The charter of the office includes reviewing the county government’s own policies and practices that result in inequities and disparities; provide leadership and vision to achieve racial equity for all county residents; and, to implement “institutional principles and practices to assure lasting racial equity.”

This is a most worthy pursuit not often seen from elected officials usually more preoccupied with paving our roads, providing drinking water and battling persistent public problems like homelessness, substance abuse, affordable housing and transportation projects.

“We’re in the midst of a national awakening of the need to address social and racial inequities at all levels,” said board chair Susan Gorin. “The urgency is real. The time to show that this is a top priority for Sonoma County is now.”

Our collective response to the recent wildfires created #SonomaStrong. Maybe now we need #SonomaTogether. This is very different than rebuilding after a wildfire. Here, we are talking about 244 years of unfinished business. It won’t be easy or quick.

Perhaps our first assignment should be to examine our own identities. We must stop putting labels on one another, and we must stop only paying attention to a limited part of someone’s identity. No one is only Black, or male, or transgender or white privileged. We are also parents, siblings, co-workers, voters, skinny or not-so-skinny, aged or still young. What we all are is diverse — a brown, black and white mosaic of personalities, beliefs, likes, politics and secrets. That is the beginning of what a more perfect union looks like.

To go with the new Office of Equity, our county schools have created a “Portrait of a Graduate.” This syllabus is composed of curiosity, empathy, communication, collaboration, ethics and initiative. That does not leave much room for prejudice, meanness, arrogance or pretense, which are all base ingredients for bigotry and racism. If we teach, learn and nurture this portrait we will be well on our way to a more perfect union. Once again, the children will lead us.

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