We must know our history, do better

**This op-ed was originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette**

By: Holly Dickson and Barry Jefferson

Name your civil liberty or civil right, and it is in jeopardy in Arkansas. Racially gerrymandered elections have yielded a coordinated attack on Arkansans' rights, existence and future.

Too many state and local politicians are abusing power and repeating mistakes of history. Efforts are underway to criminalize our speech, ban books, segregate, marginalize, oppress, and control us in the most public and private parts of our lives.

No one is being spared.

The divisiveness promoted by our governor and other politicians is conduct unbefitting the offices they hold. Working to divide Arkansans violates the duty and spirit of public service. We cannot be of, by, and for the people by targeting people for exclusion. Yet, in 2023, state officials are working to pass even more regressive voting and elections laws, funnel tax dollars into private schools, ban affirmative action, remove 5,000 young Arkansas Dreamers from the only home they've ever known, target transgender Arkansans and those who care for them, further marginalize people with disabilities, criminalize reproductive health care, build more prisons, and limit the power of the people to govern ourselves.

The abuse of leadership we are experiencing is sweeping, invasive, and regressive. We need forward-thinking and moving leadership. People in power especially must know and heed our history and demonstrate by word and deed respect for all Arkansans and our rights. This is the only way we will prosper.

Arkansas has chronically led in the number of people we imprison and has long held one of the highest rates of imprisonment not just in the country but in the world. The foster-care system is burgeoning while we rank at or near the bottom in child hunger, poverty, access to and quality of health care, and economic opportunity.

To serve our state requires serving all Arkansans. We must: end the funding of our criminal punishment system by Arkansans who struggle to pay; provide quality, evidence-based substance use and behavioral health treatment; prioritize and invest in a robust public education system where our children learn our history and how we can move forward by valuing the lives and experiences of all people; and ensure historically marginalized Arkansans are given every opportunity they would otherwise have had if not for decades of segregation and discrimination. Arkansas leaders must value our rich diversity and utilize forward-thinking progress that finds solutions that serve us all.

Holly Dickson is ACLU Arkansas executive director. Barry Jefferson is political action chair of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP.