The speech I wish I had heard

(With gratitude for Martin Luther King, Jr., Odetta and the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures for their inspired and inspiring words.) 

As I look ahead to the next 100 or so days until the national election, I wonder how we will survive it. I’m not sure how we will keep our heads clear and our hearts focused in the midst of the high drama of a campaign that many characterize as a battle of lesser evils. How will we keep our eyes on the prize when we’re sure to be constantly distracted by the ridiculous, ratings-driven juggernaut brought to us by an increasingly sycophantic and narcissistic media? How will we find the courage, the energy to sort through what’s sure to be an overwhelming onslaught of inanities we will have to pick through to get to (one hopes) any precious nuggets of a realizable vision of equity and justice for our shared future?
And then I remember that cliche of cliches: This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. And then the second realization hits: we’re only at mile marker 13.

To mix metaphors, the work of hope-filled, justice-oriented change isn’t about pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by optimism. It’s not contingent on the resume of one candidate or the merits of one ballot initiative. Justice work is more like like pulling an enormous dead elephant out of a house, through a door that’s too small, only to find that that the only way forward is a 10-mile slog through knee-deep mud. 

Let’s be clear. Though we’ve kept at it (Thank God), we haven’t always made good progress. We keep getting bogged down. We keep falling down. We’ve gotten tired and taken far too many a breaks. We’ve let the carcass sit for far too long in the sun. We have wanted to walk away, content that the carcass has been dragged out of our neighborhood and we can’t smell it any more. But then somebody comes along and reminds us that we have to keep at it because some people are still suffering from the stink of rotting flesh and soon we’ll all suffer again because the opportunistic, disease carrying flies, that love to swarm around, will come to feast on decay and to lay eggs that will bring to birth maggots that will gorge themselves on the same rotting flesh and start the cycle all over again. 

It’s terrible and dreadfully hard work, dragging that carcass to the dump. Nobody wants to do it.  But it must be done. We’ve got to get that carcass out of our lives once and for all, to work to bring an end to what that dead elephant in the collective living room of our country represents.  We have to do it because for centuries, that elephant was fed by the destruction of an Indigenous people and the devastation of their land. It was cared for by Brown and Asian immigrant workers who poured their lives into the well-being of that elephant. It was nourished by the economic bounty produced by and carried on the backs of Black men and women and children who were commodified, branded, traded in the open market and who even today lose their lives to the systematized violence of racism.

We need to come to grips with the reality that we are not finished with the long haul of nation building that began almost 400 years ago. We don’t have to look far to see that there’s still so much to do. Racism and white privilege have not disappeared because we had a movement in the 1960s or because we elected a Black president. Gender and sexual  oppression has not been eliminated because women can vote or because a few privileged women have broken through glass ceilings or because same gender couple can now legally marry. Religious freedom has not been attained because we have a few mosques and a few more synagogues scattered around the country. To be sure, we have had a few shining moments, but most of our history has been filled with the long and necessary slog of often painful and always necessary change. 

Bending the arc of our national universe toward justice takes significant effort, requiring incredible tenacity and sacrificial commitment.  So if you’re here for drama and flash, if you’re just interested in slogans and hyperbole, if you’re looking for a quick fix, you’re going to be disappointed. The work ahead of us will demand much from us. We need to get clear about our purpose. We need to be deeply honest about our past and thoroughly self-critical as we look to the future. And we’re going to need all the patience and strength and compassion and endurance we can muster. 

I’m here for this.

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