One thinks of Jacob Riis, Danish immigrant turned photographer, who trained his camera lens on squalid tenement house life New York City, and moved the conscience of a generation. One thinks of Jane Addams, who was born to privilege in Chicago, but used her family wealth to establish settlement houses to assist impoverished immigrant communities. Or Ida Tarbell, who fearlessly exposed the corrupt business practices of Standard Oil and broke the back of monopoly. Or Upton Sinclair who shone a light on nauseating meatpacking processes and worked for pure food supply. Or Ida B. Wells, who drew national attention to the evil of lynching and changed minds and hearts. These “muckrakers” as they were known at the time, were all real people, warriors for justice, whose life and work ensured movement toward a more just society.
Does the arc bend on its own? No. Justice doesn’t just happen. History provides ample evidence of that. Would Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany ultimately have bent the arc toward justice? Would Stalin and his secret police? Would Pol Pot? No. Their ideas, their regimes, their actions, and the sheer might of their enforcement apparatus would not have allowed it. We can always count on human nature, with its unquenchable striving for freedom to rise up occasionally in defense of human dignity and lend force to the ongoing quest for justice. But only the presence of good law and real warriors for justice can ensure that the arc will bend. America has had both. And continues to be blessed.
Mary Beth Klee
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