Last night I was upstairs in my house, doing some cleaning. I sat down in the big, squashy, rocking armchair in my room to take a break, and I picked up my phone and opened Facebook to scroll for a few minutes. And immediately I saw a post from a theologian I follow who posted something I didn’t want to believe. I googled like I do with everything to verify, and then I started sobbing. Despite the television on downstairs where the kids were watching a show, my oldest son, nine-years-old, heard me crying and came to find out why.
“What’s wrong?” He asked, “I heard you crying from downstairs.”
And of course, I then felt terrible, because I don’t want him to be scared, but it didn’t matter, because I couldn’t stop. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.”
“Oh. I’ve heard you talk about her.” He came over and gave me a hug.
“I’m sorry, buddy, I don’t mean to cry like this.”
“You don’t have to be sorry,” he told me, his thin, wiry arms wrapping around me.
“I’m just scared and sad,” I said. “I’m scared Trump will ramrod through another terrible supreme court justice. But I’m not giving up. Sometimes we take a hit, and we cry, but then we get up and we keep fighting, okay?”
Even as we pick up torches passed to us by our leaders who have now gone on, we pass it to our children by showing them what it means to stand up for our neighbors. The past decade or so has been a series of wake-up calls, but mostly to white folks living in this country. The advent of cell phone video cameras gave people the power to broadcast police brutality, highlighting a problem that Black organizers, indigineous organizers, and other groups have always known about. And despite genocide and enslavement and segregation and the loophole of the 13th amendment, Black communities on the whole and indigineous nations on the whole have not stopped fighting for freedom and the ability to thrive.
This matters in the context of today as we look at a senate that doesn’t care about anything but power — white, cishet, male power to be precise, and a president who will gleefully appoint another terrible person to the bench. But whether they succeed or not, we don’t quit. I get the fear: I really do. But if I’ve learned anything in these past four years it’s that we can accomplish great things together. And together we can hold each other up and carry each other through.
The communities we’ve developed as we’ve come together motivate and inspire. They also give us space to rest when we need because someone else can carry things forward when one of us drops back for a while. We trade off, like the geese flying point in the v-formation over our heads as the seasons change and they head south for the winter.
So find your place in the formation. If you have the energy, take point, help organize, and take on new leadership roles. If you’re tired and discouraged, hang back, ride on the wake of others organizing until you have the energy to move up. It’s okay to grieve: it’s not okay to give up. Remember, hope is resistance. We keep hope alive when things look hopeless because that’s when we need it.
The reality is our government has never lived up to what it said it would do. It has always consolidated power into the hands of the few rather than the many. It is deeply flawed because it was created and is maintained by deeply flawed people and in many places the system is already rigged by gerrymandering and voter suppression. We are not free and equal in this country; we just have a veneer of it.
But we also have a long history behind us of protest and organizing leading to social change. There have been many victories along the way, though none have come without great struggle because as Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” The rest of that quote goes on to say, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
And so we must rise up even more, and this time we must ensure that no one is left out or told to wait their turn. While progress comes in increments, our vision doesn’t have to. We must decide today that our endurance for oppression of anyone — not just ourselves — has come to an end. We commit ourselves anew to the struggle for everyone to be able to thrive knowing that our goal is a noble one — and also realizing that our goal will not be achieved within our lifetime. We can make progress towards that goal before passing on our own torches to the next generation. We do our best to advance the cause of justice in our own time in history, standing on the foundation that others have built for us, we leave more building blocks so that the next generation stands that much higher as they build on.
Anna Elisabeth Howard writes highly caffeinated takes on shalom as a lens for everything from her front porch in Hendersonville, TN where she lives with her husband and two sons. She is a community organizer and movement chaplain with a background in youth and family ministry and is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. You can find her at @aehowardwrites on Twitter and at aehowardwrites.com
Originally published at https://medium.com on September 19, 2020.