'We're Better Than This, but Just Barely' The Root Presents: It's Lit Talks Democracy With Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), left, and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), left, and Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings
Illustration: Angelica Alzona, Photo: Jackie Hicks

“So, it turns out that we’re better than this, but just barely,” laughs Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings in the days after a historic but still contested election, one which her husband, the incomparable Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) unfortunately didn’t live to see. Dr. Cummings’ quip is a play on her late husband’s famous quote and the title of his posthumously published memoir, We’re Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy, a book she helped see to completion after Rep. Cummings died in October of 2019.


Cummings was the first among a trio of American political titans we lost within the space of a year—Rep. John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to follow—all of whom worked tirelessly to preserve our democracy from an autocratic president and administration until the very end. And in the end, the 2020 presidential election proved that progressives were willing to fight, too—though amid our record turnout was an almost equally menacing fight to maintain white supremacy.

While many have lamented the dominance and inadequacy of our two-party system, Dr. Cummings saw promise in the engagement fostered by not only high African American voter turnout but the protests that proceeded it. Now, she says, we must not stop.

“We don’t have the luxury, to quote Elaine Jones, of being cynical,” Dr. Cummings told us during this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! podcast. “We don’t have the luxury of becoming disenchanted and thinking that we don’t have to engage. That is a surefire way to find yourself back in the chains of slavery.”

“We’ve got to go gangbusters on this system. We’ve got to own it. And that means running a Boston at every level of government, you know, making sure that we are. And I say bum-rushing the system, you know, running for office, you know, donating to those who support your agenda, you know, advocating, advocating even after a person gets into office, to make sure that they stand up for the issues you believe in and they’re good for your family and your community.

“We’ve got to run a Boston on this system and we’ve got to do it now,” she continued. “This is the time...you know, unfortunately, continuous engagement is the price that we have to pay for freedom. And since we know that continuous engagement is the price we pay—and by the way, protest is just as legitimate as engaging the system; it’s an inside-outside game and both serve an important role. And so with that, you know, I just tell young people, you know, open your eyes. This is the price we have to pay for freedom. And that means that we have to continuously be at the door and at the table.”

Hear this and more on Episode 8 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit: Maya Rockeymoore Cummings on Whether We’re Better Than This, featuring the brilliant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, now available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public. Also available is a transcript of this week’s episode.

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?