make room for others
(Walter Chavez / Unsplash)

Many folks know the Christmas story: The miraculous birth of a child by a Jewish virgin, who was told that her baby was the son of God. But in this story lies a key lesson on which we could reflect today.

While Mary and Joseph went to his hometown of Bethlehem, they sought a place for Mary to give birth. Many scholars interpret the translation differently, but Luke 2:7 (King James Version) states that Mary laid her child in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn.” I can only imagine what Mary and Joseph thought when they sought shelter and safety but found little support. Yet, in a place where livestock typically stayed, they found room.

Today, in what seems to be an ever-critical condition for our world, I feel many are seeking to hear the same words: There is room for you.

The people have the power

The history of the United States has been defined by conflicts, often over the fact some people have felt that American democracy lacks a place for them. Still, those fights embody the spirit of democracy. What supposedly makes this nation special is that we do not live in a monarchy where only the bloodline gets to reign. We supposedly do not live in an oligarchy where only a few elite citizens reign. Nor do we live in an autocracy where only one person reigns with absolute power. We live in a democracy where the whole of the people have the power.

The founding fathers of this country built it on the premise of democracy because they were under the rule of the British empire. They knew there was no space for them there, so they declared independence and made their own government. But more than 200 years later, American people are still pleading for more room from our leaders.

Unfortunately, this month, our nation’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, which challenges Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. If the court rules to uphold the ban, effectively overturning the precedent on abortion rights set by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, some folks have argued that it would open up opportunities for other long-held precedents to be overturned. Justice Brett Kavanaugh did mention that school desegregation and gay marriage came through the means of overturning precedents, but those were decisions that expanded rights, rather than contracted them. Those were decisions that made more room at the American inn.

Build a better future onto the back of the inn

New headlines lit up early Sunday morning when U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a well–known moderate Democrat who has used his leverage to shape policy in the narrowly Democratic-majority Senate, announced his opposition to the latest version of President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion Build Back Better legislation, which is aimed at providing universal pre-k, providing paid parental leave, extending the child tax credit, addressing climate change, capping insulin costs at $35 per month and reducing health care premiums. The proposal pitches other provisions largely intended to decrease poverty in the U.S. Since Manchin’s announcement, reports have surfaced that he privately cast doubts on whether low-income families can spend responsibly when receiving the tax credit payments.

If that is truly Manchin’s stance, it is not only insulting, but disappointing. The proposed legislation has been vetted by numerous private and public organizations, including the Congressional Budget Office, which largely agreed that the bill would have minimal impact on the federal deficit (another Manchin and Republican concern) when compared to then-President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. The evidence is clear that this long-negotiated and highly anticipated legislation would dramatically improve many people’s lives.

While Manchin could make room for more American families — including the many mothers that COVID-19 has forced out of the workforce and the 94 percent of West Virginia children that could benefit from the child tax credit payments, he selfishly and short-sightedly is dealing a policy blow to his party and, more importantly, his constituents.

It is time to make room for others

For all of these reasons and more, a critical election season will be upon Americans in 2022. Are you registered to vote? Are you ready to pay attention when the 2022 Oklahoma Legislature convenes session in February? Will you support attempts to establish more room for more people? Will you oppose efforts that do the opposite?

This holiday season, I hope that we reflect on our nation’s history and look inside our hearts. When have global societies been better when we limited room for others? If we want to survive as a thriving society, we must make room for every living being. Nature demands it. Our hearts truly yearn for it.

Let’s make room for those who don’t have a home; for those who don’t have access to health care or access to vote. We must make room for those who lack access to safe abortions and for those who inherited the deficits of society. Although biblical, the story of the birth of Jesus Christ can serve as a symbolism that miracles happen when there is room for others.

J.D. Baker is the special assistant to Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. He is a former student body president at the University of Oklahoma and is a member of the OU Black Alumni Society. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in African & African-American studies. He serves on several local boards, including the OU LGBTQ Alumni Society.