What We Do Now – I

I’m in the middle of reading an anthology of short essays on how to live post-election called What We Do Now, edited by Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians (Melville House, Jan. 2017). I want to share some of the quotes that struck me.

Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator (MN state rep), writes, “It is essential we recognize the inherent obligation of humanity: to build community. Surviving life in a refugee camp at a young age, I find this obligation to be very real; hope and unity were essential to a fervent community.”

Omar also quotes Solon, an ancient Athenian lawmaker, as saying, “Wrongdoing can only be avoided if those who are not wronged feel the same indignation at it as those who are.” For me, this is the most important theme in this volume:  solidarity, cross-movement unity.

Cristina Jiménez, director of United We Dream, refers to it as “showing up for each other when we come under attack, and showing up for each other when we have an opportunity to advance the cause of justice.”

Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian director of the Arab American Association of New York, writes,”One of the most important things we can all do as Americans is to begin investing in relationship building. Do you know your neighbors? Do you know who leads the local community-based organizations in your neighborhood? Do you know the heads of local churches, local mosques, and temples? Do know who your local elected representatives are? If no, start now. If yes, how can you deepen those relationships so that they are transformative and not simply transactional.”

And she asks us all to “Stay vigilant. Stay focused. Stay outraged. Perpetual outrage is what’s going to fuel our movements right now.” And she concludes, “The question is: What are we willing to sacrifice? What history will we write together?”

In a post-election sermon, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum put solidarity in very concrete terms: “The president-elect has said he intends to register every Muslim in this country. Well, let him try. Because if he tries to register Muslims, there are going to be a lot more Muslims to register than he ever imagined. Millions of us Muslims.”

Many of the authors in this book, especially the ones who are not household names, argue that “we need to shift much of our energy from the national stage to the local,” as M. Dove Kent, director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, puts it. She also writes something it is very important to keep in mind: “We’ve got to find new frameworks for common ground, and and the litmus tests that separate us. … The thinner lines in the sand that previously divided us must be erased. We will need to find a way to get over ourselves, and quickly, if we are to be of service.”

More wisdom comes from Brittany Packnett, cofounder of Campaign Zero and author of my favorite piece so far, “White People: What Is Your Plan for the Trump Presidency?”: “The work of freedom is messy, dangerous, and intentionally uncomfortable. Here’s a simple test: if the action step you’re taking isn’t really costing you your comfort, chances are you’re not doing enough. … Getting in the way to protect the vulnerable, building something new that empowers the marginalized, and endangering yourself to shield others are the acts of an accomplice. We need no more allies — we need accomplices.” Powerful stuff.

I’m just halfway through this sometimes enlightening, sometimes provocative anthology. There should be another blog post in it.

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