The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is distinguished by a ship’s lantern.
“The lantern elicits immediate recognition and evokes the shared cultural symbols of light and truth,” designer Edwin Schlossberg says. “Light is the beacon of warning, of safety, of hope in the wilderness. A lantern symbolizes the search for an honest man. It lights a dark path, illuminating the proper course. A lantern is in keeping with the profound message of the work, Profiles in Courage, that a courageous person is one who is honest, has integrity, and finds his own path despite the darkness of outside pressures.”
This year, for the first time, the Profiles in Courage Award honored five individuals whose strength of character and courage stood up for democracy. Last Tuesday’s commentary spoke about Congressman Russell Bowers. Here are the other four honorees.
“[Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelenskyy,” the awards committee writes, “marshaled the spirit, patriotism, and untiring sacrifice of the Ukrainian people in a life-or-death fight for their country – a struggle that endures to this day.
“From the first moment of the invasion, Zelenskyy and his family became targets for assassination by Russian forces. In the face of this constant danger, Zelenskyy has led a courageous defense of democratic ideals and political independence. . .. His principled leadership has strengthened the resolve of Ukrainians and people around the globe to protect and defend the fragile human right of self-determination.”
Republican Representative Liz Cheney “has been one of the most conservative members within the Republican Conference. After the election, however, when President Trump falsely claimed that the election was stolen, she repeatedly called on the President to respect the rulings of the courts and his oath of office, and to publicly support the peaceful transfer of power.
“When the President instead rejected the lawful, certified outcome of the election, she broke with most in her party, urged fidelity to the Constitution, and stood her ground with honor and conviction. She stood against the lawlessness and violence of January 6th, and voted to impeach President Trump, concluding: ‘The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.’
“Cheney received numerous death threats after casting her vote in favor of impeachment, and yet refused to take the politically expedient course that most of her party embraced. Because she would not remain silent or ignore the events of January 6th, Cheney’s congressional colleagues stripped her of her leadership position in the GOP caucus. She now serves as the Vice Chair of the Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and remains a consistent and courageous voice in defense of democracy.”
Not as well-known are Jocelyn Benson, and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss.
“In December 2020, shortly after the presidential election, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was at home putting up Christmas decorations with her young son when armed protestors massed in front of her house demanding that Michigan’s presidential election result be reversed. Protesters called Benson a ‘traitor’ and a ‘criminal’ for defending the certification of Michigan’s accurate results, which favored Joe Biden.
“Benson, the state’s chief elections officer, did not waver, and defended the will of Michigan voters and assured them that she would protect and defend the integrity of Michigan’s vote in accordance with state law.
“Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Benson repeatedly refused to back down from fulfilling the duties of her office, even as threats and harassment from then-President Trump and his allies grew increasingly aggressive.”
Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a full-time employee in the Fulton County Department of Registration & Elections since 2017, became the target of a vicious smear campaign by then-President Trump and his allies who were seeking to overturn the 2020 election.
“As a registration officer, Moss mostly handles voter applications and absentee ballot requests. She also helps to process the vote count on Election Day, in addition to other duties. In the wake of a close vote that tipped the state of Georgia to Joe Biden, Trump and his supporters falsely accused Moss of processing fake ballots for Biden during the late-night hours of Election Day.
“Moss received so many death threats and racist taunts that she was forced to change her appearance and go into hiding. She carried out her duties remotely as much as possible. Although state officials repeatedly debunked the Trump camp’s lies about Moss, she continued to receive threats and harassing messages from Trump loyalists nearly a year after the election. Despite the onslaught of random, undeserved, and malicious attacks, Moss continues to serve in the Fulton County Department of Registration & Elections doing the hard and unseen work to run our democracy.”
At a time when democracy remains under threat, both at home and abroad, those who demonstrate the character and courage in its defense are worthy of our deepest respect and admiration.
We need more selfless individuals who light the way for democracy.