A view of the Mississippi River. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

My mother has a saying: It’ll be waiting for you down the road.

She’d remind me of that when I had a deep cough after she told me not to go outside with my chest all open, trying to be cute. I’ve heard it when I ignored that late notice I should have paid right away and now was facing exorbitant penalties. 

The saying has been her way of getting me to think long-term, to consider how my choices today affect my life tomorrow.

I hear it often these days, dancing around my consciousness, in my mom’s East Coast alto, a kind of Greek chorus observing dark reality. 

Nationally, we are awaiting confirmation that the right to an abortion won’t be constitutionally protected. Locally, we are facing the election of key positions that will affect, among other things, the way our criminal and juvenile justice systems work for the next decade.

Sure, various things have brought us to this place. But also: I know people who have proclaimed that they aren’t against abortion rights, but it’s not their cause. They aren’t having any more children, they say. Or, they say, it’s not something they would do and they get why people are against it. I know others who say both political parties are crooked, so voting doesn’t matter. Or we need a third-party system, and until we have that, I’m not going to vote as a matter of principle. Or others who say, I’ll vote in the general election; the primary doesn’t matter. 

There are specific arguments against these thoughts. But the greater issue is what they aren’t saying and what they mean. They are opting out — of the process, of the responsibility, of their power to shape this city and this country into what it might be. 

When I joined MLK50’s team and mission, I was making an intentional decision to get more involved in creating a more just and equitable world. 

I was committed to that idea before. But by making that goal a part of my daily work — the activity I spend most of my time doing — I’ve seen a ripple effect into the other corners of my life. Inconsistencies are more jarring. I’m more purposeful in the way I speak and in the choices I make.

I’ve opted to go all in. 

We’re in a moment where it has become clear that opting out can have dire consequences. 

I’m not holding myself up as a role model. Opting in doesn’t have to be big. If you’re not one to march, pass out flyers. If you’re not one to pass out flyers, donate to an organization. If you are already donating, consider giving more. 

Go to the candidates’ websites. Spend a half-hour a day reading about their positions on the issues. If there’s a candidate you like, join a phone bank to get people to vote; even doing it once helps. Bring someone who isn’t registered to vote the paperwork or take them to do it. Take them to the polls on Election Day.

Figure out something you can do that works for you and do something because every bit of it counts. 

Your inaction has consequences. And they’ll be waiting for you down the road. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com

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