Newsweek - - Politics - kerry is a for­mer U.S. sen­a­tor from Mas­sachusetts; he served as sec­re­tary of state un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017 and is the au­thor of Ev­ery Day Is Ex­tra (Si­mon & Schus­ter), which came out in Sep­tem­ber.

Things only change when peo­ple make them change. Ci­ti­zen­ship isn’t pas­sive; it’s ac­tive. I spent two years fight­ing to end the war in Viet­nam. I got ar­rested in an act of civil dis­obe­di­ence with hun­dreds of other vets. Peo­ple screamed at us, “Sup­port the troops,” and we’d re­spond, “We are the troops.” Know what hap­pened? Richard Nixon won 49 states in 1972, and I learned the pres­i­dent waited up un­til news con­firmed that I’d lost my race in Mas­sachusetts be­fore go­ing to bed.

I be­came an op­ti­mist the hard way. I got knocked down, but then I got up. Not even two years later, Nixon had to re­sign, and a new Congress of re­form­ers came to Wash­ing­ton to end the war and clean up the cor­rup­tion. But it didn’t “just hap­pen.” It never does. You have to get in the arena.

There are many ex­am­ples of peo­ple who put them­selves in the arena. Re­mem­ber Michael Jor­dan’s rule that he didn’t do pol­i­tics be­cause “Repub­li­cans buy sneak­ers too”? Bruce Spring­steen put his name and rep­u­ta­tion on the line by speak­ing out in his own way about Amer­ica and our elec­tions. Ca­role King lives the word ci­ti­zen. She’s on Capi­tol Hill ev­ery year fight­ing to pre­serve the Rocky Moun­tain North­west.

In 2002, I got to know an ac­tivist in New Hamp­shire. Her son was in a wheel­chair, and she be­came a fierce ad­vo­cate for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. She worked her butt off on my cam­paign. We lost, but she didn’t give up. She’s Mag­gie Has­san, and now she’s a U.S. sen­a­tor fight­ing for mil­lions of kids, the same way she did for her own, ar­gu­ing at school boards. That’s what you do. You fight. You keep push­ing.

I don’t be­lieve we have to be cap­tives of dem­a­gogues, and if I were a ci­ti­zen in a state and all I heard was the vil­i­fy­ing, name-call­ing and the hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing head­lines, I could un­der­stand why peo­ple tune out or worse.

But you have to lis­ten. Thirty-two years ago, as­signed seat­ing put me face to face with a guy who had op­po­site views about a war in which we’d both served. We didn’t trust each other. We didn’t re­ally know each other. But after a long con­ver­sa­tion on a long flight, we de­cided to work hand in hand to make peace with Viet­nam and with our­selves here in Amer­ica. I will never for­get stand­ing with John Mccain, the two of us alone, in the very cell in the Hanoi Hilton where years of his life were lived out in pain but al­ways in honor.

One thing the ser­vice and the Se­nate taught John and me—at some point, Amer­ica’s got to come to­gether. If Wash­ing­ton is a city where you can bridge the di­vide be­tween a pro­tester and a POW, find­ing com­mon ground on any­thing else shouldn’t be hard at all. But you have to force open a di­a­logue. And you have to lis­ten.


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