Wednesday, November 9, 2016. Washington Square Park in New York City: Hundreds singing. Praying. Short talks. A primal scream. More singing. Holy hugs. Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians gathered. One beautiful Black woman held her toddler as if for dear life, or as though that baby girl was a lucky charm, a sign for something better to come.
Then the stories we feared began: A White middle school student telling a Black classmate he can get back in his place. A gay NYC man getting on a bus was told “Enjoy the concentration camps, faggot.” The NYU Muslim Students Association found the word Trump scrawled on the floor of their prayer room. A group of Hispanic kids in Raleigh, NC taunted by White children who told them they are going back to Mexico. Two White college students dressed in blackface in front of a confederate flag on social media. A swastika painted on a fence with the words Make America White Again. A woman sexually grabbed on a subway by a man laughing, “Now America is great again.”
This is our country right now.
The despair is real. Perhaps it took this election to awaken us to our shared humanity and this nightmare that’s not new. Some version of it has existed as long as we have been a nation built on stolen land, by a people stolen from their land.
The danger is real. When one baby girl is torn from her mother’s arms and watches her mom get on a truck to Mexico, that is one too many. When one gay couple wonders if their family is in jeopardy, that is one too many. When a pair of Black boys walking together, minding their own business are either stopped and frisked, or viewed by a nice white lady clutching her purse, that is too many.
But we are still here. We who believe all are created in God’s image; we who believe every child should have a safe place to grow up and learn; we who believe people should be paid a living wage and everyone should have enough. That no religion has a monopoly on terror and our Muslim neighbors deserve the right to worship, live and love in peace. That no religion has a monopoly on love. There is more than one path to God and being Christian is more than the prosperity gospel, abortion, guns and gays.
Like many of you, I am not ready for concession speeches nor am I ready to pretend that Trump can be a good president. He is still who he is and who he is appointing into positions of grave influence have shown their true colors. But we do know that many who voted for this presidential candidate, a sexist, racist, sexual predator who denigrates Muslims and Mexicans, did so to flip a finger at a nation that they feel has hurt them. Oh, how they made the wrong choice. But when jobs are lost in the rust belt, and White men and women feel undermined by the 1%, and retirees lose their pensions while corporate executives make millions of dollars…their despair is real.
Our compassion for human kind must be born of our humanness, not of our party affiliation. So I wonder instead what are we going to do to make America compassionate, to make America open-minded, to make America just, to make America safe?
Here are five things I think we must do:
1. We must have care-frontations. We are at work and will soon be at dinner tables eating turkey with some of the people we love, some who voted differently. Though it hurts, we need to understand why. I think this is a movement-building time and research and knowledge are part of the resistance to bigotry. We might find some allies. A conversation might include these questions:
What made you vote the way you did?
What were you hoping for when you made that choice?
How are you feeling about it now?
May I tell you how I am feeling about this president-elect?
What do you hear me saying? And what do you think about it?
2. Then we must show up. Our first action must be to stand solidly and boldly against any “other-izing” and aggression. Report any hate acts here (and document these as best you can.) Make safe spaces for those being targeted. We must call foul, and we must protest peacefully, for violence begets more violence. And boycott businesses.
3. We must end the Electoral College. Upwards of 4.5 million voters have signed a petition at Change.org hoping to persuade the Electoral College to vote for Hillary Clinton because she won the popular vote. I signed it, and maybe you did, too. We might not be successful, but we will be heard.
4. We must pray with our feet. From a million women in DC during the inauguration to thousands protesting every time the president-elect holds a hate-filled rally. We must organize across our differences to create powerful coalitions to resist any attempt to erode civil rights. The loss of rights is a slippery slope, a silent disease that shows itself when it’s too late.
5. We need to care for ourselves. Immerse ourselves in art. Read poetry. See a movie like The Birth of a Nation (2016), and learn about a hero named Nat Turner. We need to train for the emergency that we are in. We need to be physically and spiritually fit so we can have stamina for the justice-making that lies before us. Sleep, exercise, eat well, like we are training for a marathon — because we are.
We have work to do, people. We must grieve, that is part of the work. Then we must organize and act and remember that we are not alone. We are accompanied by a God who created the earth out of chaos; who knows how to take crappy times and use them to make good old every day folks like us strong and capable and ready to make love happen. Grieve. Pray. Organize. Act.
Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is the Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City and a board member of the Center for Progressive Renewal and Convergence.