From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.

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Ordinary Hands
by Thrity Umrigar

I commit to take action because immigrants are being separated from their children, the planet continues to heat up and burn, racists and anti-Semites have slithered out from the rocks they were hiding under, and a cabal of grifters and scoundrels is stripping our country’s treasure and natural resources.

I commit to take action because the America I came to over thirty-five years ago is disappearing before my eyes, replaced by a snarling, mean country where ignorance is celebrated as virtue and kindness is mocked as folly.

I commit to take action because no matter how imperfect our democracy has been — and I believe that unless we someday confront our original sin of slavery, we will remain imperfect — we were always governed by leaders who believed in striving for a more perfect union. Until now.

I commit to take action because I believe that science matters, facts matter, math matters, language matters, and honor and decency matter.

I commit to take action because there are young children who deserve a planet that won’t implode with climate refugees and water wars, and a country whose oceans and natural monuments aren’t being sold off to mining and oil companies and whose government doesn’t permit the importing of elephant parts or the runoff from coal plants into our rivers and streams.

I commit to take action because there are young kids in this country who deserve schools (and malls and theaters and playgrounds and neighborhoods) that don’t erupt in gunshots and violence that traumatizes them the rest of their lives.

I commit to take action because we all deserve a president who doesn’t lie, doesn’t mock the infirm, doesn’t encourage brutality and violence, doesn’t divide humanity into winners and losers, and knows the difference between Nazis with tiki torches and those who demonstrate against them.

I commit to take action because we may be in the last gasp of our democracy and, unlike during World War II, there is no other United States to save us. And so we must save ourselves. As another president, a great one, once said, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

I commit to take action because I believe that there is more good in the world than evil and our side has the dreamers and the artists and the writers and the poets. As Leonard Cohen once sang, “We’re ugly but we have the music.” And so our side must prevail.

I commit to take action because we are at a crossroads, as we were during the Civil War, as we were during the Great Depression, as we were during World War II, as we were during the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the gay rights movement, and during each of those times the arc of the moral universe was made to bend toward justice. And those hands that did the bending were not the hands of the one percenters or the hands of the lobbyists or the hands of the corporations (because, as Mitt Romney once said, corporations are people, too). They were ordinary hands, the hands of unsung heroes, the hands of protesters and demonstrators, hands that curled into fists of defiance, hands that held placards, hands that joined with other hands. And now it is our turn, and surely we cannot be the first generation to turn away from this necessary task.

I commit to take action because ultimately — and I say this as someone who makes a living as a wordsmith — words are not enough. Writing on Facebook is not enough. Imagine if Rosa Parks had tweeted her indignation rather than offering up her physical body to the cause. Imagine if John Lewis had simply posted pictures of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Instagram instead of marching and getting beaten to a bloody pulp in Selma.

I commit to take action because this country is worth fighting for, this blue marvel of a planet is worth fighting for, our children are worth fighting for. And if we don’t participate in this grand, noble work of remaking our democracy, who will?

After all, democracy-building is one job we cannot outsource to India.

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Take action today:

Pledge to register new voters through Rock the Vote.

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Thrity Umrigar is the author of eight novels, including The Space Between Us and The Secrets Between Us. She lives in Ohio.