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Wake Up Everybody

By Isaac Adlerstein '21, Staff Writer

· Isaac Adlerstein

It’s 5:00am and my alarm rings. Instead of crystals, radar, or some other default iPhone alarm sound, I wake up to one of the greatest songs ever written: Wake Up Everybody, by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.


“Wake up everybody no more sleepin' in bed…No more backward thinkin' time for thinkin' ahead…The world has changed so very much, from what it used to be…There is so much hatred war an' poverty.” The song was written in 1975, but could have just as easily been written today.


Racism is still alive. Hate crimes are on the rise. Gun control is out of control. Tens of millions of Americans live in poverty. There is war in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Terrorism is commonplace. The national debt is approaching $22 trillion. Hurricanes, tornados, and forest fires are becoming more severe and more common. Murder, theft, and rape still happen. Two million Americans are behind bars. And America is seemingly more divided than ever before.


When these are the only things that we see on the news, it is easy to think that the sky is falling, and to think that things were better yesterday. But the past always looks better when the present is so imperfect—for yesterday’s tomorrow has come, but today’s may not. Despite this sense of dread and melancholy that we all inevitably fall into at one point or another over the course of our lives, it is important to keep things in perspective and recognize how far we have come.


Imagine for a moment that you could choose to be alive in any era in American history, but that your race, religion, gender, health, wealth, and place of birth would be randomized. What era would you choose? Unless you are a gambler, masochist, or fool, you would choose the present.


Not long ago were slavery and Jim Crow reality. Not long ago did Civil War pit American against American and claim 600,000 lives. Not long ago were women unable to vote. Not long ago were 80 million killed in WWII. Not long ago were Japanese Americans placed in internment camps. Not long ago was brute force the only way to settle disputes. Not long ago did same-sex couples not have the right to marry. Not long ago was the world on the brink of nuclear war. Not long ago did it take months to travel across continents. Not long ago did it take weeks to send a message. Not long ago was the world lit by candles and flames. Not long ago was literacy a rarity. Not long ago was life expectancy in the forties.


Not long ago did those who came before us hope that the world and this country would be where we are today.


Progress is not given; it is earned. It may sometimes feel like we have taken two steps forward, and then a step back. But we must remember to keep things in perspective. We will step forward again. As John F. Kennedy once said: “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”


Despite the emerging and evolving threats and challenges that change brings, one thing must always remain constant if we are not to miss the future: we must carry and spread the light—being the change we want to see in the world—even in the face of tremendous darkness.


The greatest threat to America is neither climate change nor war. Rather, it is the risk of this nation once again becoming a house divided against itself. If we are to stand, we must recognize that regardless of whether we are Democrat or Republican, immigrant or native, rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, we are all in this together. It should not take bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor or planes flying into the World Trade Center for us to understand that. To our enemies, we are all on the same team. Why then, should we forget that when we are dealing with one another other?


For each hate crime, for each act of political violence, and for each time Americans are afraid of one another, this country diverges further from the ideal that it is supposed to stand for: that regardless of what you look like, where you come from, what god you do or do not pray to, or who you voted for in the last election, you are entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Just because someone holds different political beliefs than you does not mean that they are evil—nor does it mean that you should dismiss or avoid talking with them. Doing so just maintains and widens the divide. Instead, we must seek out ways to work together and see how we are more similar than we are different.


The military does an excellent job of doing this. It brings together people of all different backgrounds and origins—people who likely would otherwise never cross paths with one another other—and develops friendships, teamwork, and common goals. On the battlefield, it does not matter whether or not you and the person next to you see eye to eye on immigration policy or abortion—you will be there for one another regardless.


That is the kind of ethic we need in public and in private life. We need to recognize that the only way we can continue on the path of progress is to work together—even if it means making compromises and admitting that one is wrong when necessary. Doing so starts at the individual level. We must choose to embrace and understand, not fear and demonize.


There will be bumps in the road, but we must remember not to lose hope, for the only way anything is ever done in this world is through hope. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”


Wake up everybody: “The world won't get no better if we just let it be.”

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