Cornell William Brooks is president of the NAACP. Jonathan Greenblatt is chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League.
For more than a century, our two organizations have fought on behalf of justice and equality. We have worked together on anti-lynching laws, school desegregation, voting rights legislation, hate crime laws and criminal-justice reform.
Both the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP have done much to make the United States a fairer and stronger nation, and we often have done it together. Either organization simply could stand on its legacy, especially on a day set aside to remember a hero of the civil rights battles of the past. But on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we recognize that this is no time to wax poetic about past triumphs or rest on our laurels. Now more than ever, we must build a strong coalition of now.
The new administration is taking office this week after an extraordinarily divisive election campaign that featured dog-whistled and overt anti-Semitism as well as mainstreamed racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, misogyny and other forms of hate. Bigotry that for so many years was hidden, repressed or relegated to the fringes of society no longer appears to be taboo. Words that were once used only by extremists such as white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and, more recently, the so-called alt-right have become part of the public conversation. Disturbingly, according to the FBI, the number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement increased in 2015, and a hate crime is committed every 90 minutes in the United States.
At this moment in American history, we believe that the ADL and NAACP must renew and reenergize our long-standing civil rights partnership, stand firm for our values and our convictions, and oppose every form of bigotry and prejudice.
In the months to come, we will seek to ensure there are adequate and comprehensive hate-crimes laws to demonstrate that bigotry will not be tolerated. We will fight the use of religion as a sword to thwart anti-discrimination laws that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities as well as women’s equality. We will debunk phantom claims of voter fraud and fiercely meet any effort to suppress voting rights or relax Justice Department enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. We will stand together against any effort to deprive individuals of equal educational opportunities, or the opportunity to live their lives in dignity, free from persecution because of who they are, how they pray, where they are from or who they love.
As we honor King’s memory, we must acknowledge that these are not normal times. Our communities are increasingly divided. Bullying of all kinds is flourishing. Our public discourse not only has become more polarized; it has also degraded in an era of half-truths and false news.
And yet, we will not accept this as normal. We will not stand back and learn to tolerate a society that is increasingly intolerant. We will work to create change now.
So, if a Muslim registry is created, we — this proud Christian and this proud Jew — will be at the head of the line to register as Muslims. If they try to deport children who have grown up in this country but who are undocumented, then we — this descendant of slaves and this grandson of immigrants and refugees — will push back on such decrees and fight to keep families intact. If they try to dictate that businesses can fire people based on their sexuality or deny them service based on their gender identities, then we — two straight, cis men — will stand up and speak out for our LGBT brothers and sisters.
We are under no illusions how difficult unity can be. While African Americans and Jewish Americans marched together with King decades ago, over the years there have been differences and disagreements. And yet, as we commemorate King’s legacy today, we must recognize that we are — as he put it — “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Now more than ever, there is no “us vs. them.” We are all black. We are all Jews. We are all Muslims. We are all women. We are all immigrants. We are all LGBT. And when the rights of one of us are threatened, all of us are threatened. These are the values that will guide this “coalition of now” as we stand — and fight — together today. We are as one, bound by the common cause of civil rights, justice and fair treatment for all Americans.