If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of many of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will…men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get.- Fredrick Douglass
These words by Fredrick Douglass have stuck with me over the years like few others. This has been one of my favorite passages since I first read it back in high school. I find myself remembering Douglass' words whenever I am tempted to whine, feel sorry for myself, or give in to pessimism.
When I find myself wishing for a different set of circumstances, these words remind me to stop and ask myself what I am doing to make it happen. What I am doing to change the world, and what changes in my own life am I willing to make? It is that latter question that forces me to take a hard look at myself. It is so much easier to complain that it is to take action. But without struggle, there will be no progress.
The sort of change I want, whether it is political or whether it involves attitudes toward atheists, is not going to happen on its own. It is not going to be handed to me on a platter. It is likely to require hard work, persistence, and even sacrifice.
When Douglass wrote those words, he was not talking about the separation of church and state or the anti-intellectualism which afflicts the U.S. today. But his point about power conceding nothing without demand is certainly appropriate in these and many other issues with which we occupy ourselves. Christian privilege is not going to go away willingly. Anti-atheist bigotry is not going to just vanish. Nobody is going to give atheists a seat at the table. It is up to us to take it.
Part of what Douglass' words mean to me is that complacency accomplishes nothing. Life is not a spectator sport meant to be viewed from the sidelines. At least, not if we care about the outcome. The sort of life worth living is going to be messy, and it will involve contact.