The Power of Social Activism

A few weeks ago Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced plans to overhaul several banknotes. The one that got the most attention was the $20 bill, with the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the face of the bill. Also announced were plans to redesign the backs of the $5, $10, and $20 bills. Those designs would feature portraits and scenes of the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements and its leaders. Such famous figures as Martin Luther King Jr, Susan B. Anthony, and Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few.

$20 bill

The original plan was to replace Alexander Hamilton’s portrait on the $10 bill with a woman. This sparked fierce protests from Hamilton’s supporters, arguing that he was a key early architect of our banking system and should thus still be commemorated. Then in the spring of last year a grassroots movement called Women on 20s was started to petition for a woman to replace Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 bill. That movement gained an overwhelming amount of support, receiving over 600,000 votes in one of its online polls. Of the many famous women they suggested to replace Jackson one of them was Harriet Tubman.

It is worth noting that the people have no say in how our currency is designed. Unless otherwise directed by Congress the Treasury Secretary has the ultimate say in whose portrait is placed on the banknotes. That is why this latest announcement is so historic. Jack Lew heard the resounding voice of change and he chose to listen to it.

This news also comes at a time when the wounds are still raw from the Charleston shooting last summer. Bringing the issue of racial inequality to the forefront of everyone’s mind. It has also sparked the debate on how we should remember the Civil War and those who fought in it. All throughout the South public places have been renamed, flags taken down, and statues crushed.

While we should never commemorate slavery it is still a part of our nation’s history. We can not change the past, but we can learn from it. Author and Historian Eric Foner eloquently stated, “In the south, I don’t think they should take down statues of Confederate leaders, instead they should put up statues of black congressmen and senators. It makes the public history more accurately reflect our entire history.”

The addition of images of civil rights leaders on our currency is a great way to add to the public history. Their efforts helped define our nation and mold it into the country we know today. By adding these images it will publicly commemorate those leaders and the great work they did.

It is also a wonderful reminder of how much power the people have to change the course of history. As Americans we are lucky to be able to voice our opinions and to petition our government for change. Most countries don’t allow their people to speak freely and will silence any objection to the government’s will.

So in a few years when you pull your wallet out look closely at the green paper inside it. You will see the evidence of social activism and how it can create historic changes. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What do you think about this? Should we change the design of our currency?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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