Many who love democracy tremble for the United States of America tonight. The outgoing President of the United States has tried to overturn the clear and proven will of the electorate—the lifeblood of any democracy. As his so-called “March to Save America,” Trump challenged the legitimacy of a free and fair election with barrage after barrage of incendiary lies. He urged his followers to storm the Capitol of the United States, assured them, “I will be there with you,” and ducked into hiding.
The armed mob invaded the Capitol, pushed past the police, smashed windows, and used metal poles to batter their way into the building. They injured a number of law enforcement officers. One woman lost her life. They stomped through the halls waving the banners of Confederate traitors and white supremacists. Overwhelming law enforcement officers, the mob stormed the floors of Congress and forced our elected representatives to flee. The far-right extremists looted and vandalized Congressional offices. This bizarre exercise in contempt for humanity distilled the familiar poison of the Republican Party’s policies and politics in recent decades.
When Trump finally tweeted an appeal for these domestic terrorists to leave, he asked them to go home even as he justified their violence: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home in love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
One cannot help but imagine how differently things might have gone, how many lifeless bodies would have left the Capitol on stretchers had the mob been comprised of African American citizens.
The nightmarish scene at our Capitol seared the minds of Americans who love freedom and democracy, broke the hearts of those everywhere who cherish the vision of a social ethos grounded in love, respect, justice and mercy. But we are not helpless, and our democracy is not at an end.
Even as the devotees of Donald Trump’s moral emptiness violated the sanctity of the People’s House, the voters of Georgia spoke loud and clear and left us all that decent people require: good work to do and people like Stacey Abrams, Nse Ufot, [pronounced In-Say Ooh-fut] Rev. Raphael Warnock and Latasha Brown to work with.
If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood like a rock under the lash of slavery, and ended it; who battled beneath the horrors of Jim Crow, and toppled it; whose redemptive moral vision alone has allowed the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution to speak to the ages; if we summon but a small measure of our ancestors’ unbending courage, American democracy will not die, regardless of the wealth, power or ruthlessness of its enemies, foreign and domestic.
The crucial question we must face today has not been put to us by Donald Trump, and to answer it requires us to stop grieving and start breathing. Valarie Kaur, a Sihk-American filmmaker and activist, put this question to us at a Watch Night service at Riverside Church in New York City on December 31, 2016, a fearful night when things looked mighty dark. Kaur said to us: “In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: the future is dark. But faith dares us to ask: ‘What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country waiting to be born? What if all of the mothers who came before us, who survived genocide and occupation, slavery and Jim Crow, racism and xenophobia, political oppression and sexual assault, are standing behind us now, whispering in our ear: ‘You are brave.’ What does the midwife tell us to do? She says, ‘Breathe.’ And then? ‘Push.’ Because if we don’t push we will die. If we don’t push our nation will die. Tonight we will breathe. Tomorrow we will labor in love, through your revolutionary love that is the magic we will show our children.”
Don’t be afraid of the darkness—and don’t be afraid of our hopes, either. Take a deep breath and get some sleep. And in the days to come let us work together and let today’s victories, tomorrow’s hopes and God’s love light our steps.
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman
President, North Carolina Conference of NAACP Branches