The events of recent days have been disheartening. The destructive disrespect, threats of execution, and overt violence by those attempting to overthrow democratic processes at the U.S. Capitol remain stunning. Continued online calls for more violence in the days ahead are worrisome. And it was heart-sinking to see Christian banners and symbols, along with those of white supremacy, neo-Nazis, and the Confederacy, being borne by the throng who descended on the U.S. Capitol.
These recent days have also seen an alarming rise in covid-19 related deaths. With 3000-4000 people dying every day, the United States will soon pass 400,000 deaths. Among these are a disproportionate percentage of black and brown people. If we lift our eyes beyond our immediate national crises, even larger ones loom. Recent scientific reports indicate the effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity will be even more perilous to the human species than previously understood. And again, it is communities of color who are already being most affected. Discussion of how to check this impeached president's power to launch nuclear weapons has raised anew the alarming specter of nuclear disaster. The challenges ahead seem daunting, if not overwhelming.
A national day memorializing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that we must still dare to dream of a better world. Dr. King's famous "I have a dream" speech, given on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, rang out over the din of tumultuous events that could have crushed his human spirit. It had been eight years since the Montgomery bus boycott launched the civil rights movement. During that time he had seen the vitriolic violence of entrenched segregation and had himself experienced abuse, imprisonment, death threats, and a home bombing.
But still he dreamed. He dreamed of a day when racial segregation and discrimination would end and people could live in harmony and respect, no matter the color of their skin. He dreamed of a day when oppression for black and brown people would be transformed into freedom and justice. He dreamed because of his deep faith in God and his belief that God was on the side of justice. Let us hold on to his dream.
The rise of those subscribing to white supremacy and their increasingly entitled visibility are both frightening and discouraging. Their heavily armed presence and calls for violence in public spaces connected to democratic governance are deeply concerning. While president-elect Biden's call for civility, respect, and nonviolence is needed, his reasoning that this is not who we are as Americans is not entirely accurate. In reality, white supremacy and a willingness to use violence have been part of our national legacy since the beginning. The genocide of native Americans and the brutal enslavement of African Americans bear witness.
As a former nurse, I know that when a surgical wound gets deeply infected, healing is not promoted by simply stitching the skin together over it again so that the surface looks okay. The infection would become abscessed or spread throughout the body, with more grave illness resulting. Rather, the infected abscess or wound needs to be lanced open, drained, cleansed, treated, and allowed to slowly heal from the inside out. Only then is there lasting healing.
These recent months have been a time when the destructive infection of racism and white supremacy have been exposed. Many of us who are white have not been fully aware of the extent of this national infection and have much work to do within ourselves and our communities. Those who are black Americans and people of color have had no such fantasies, as they have experienced its everyday reality. As Black Lives Matter protests erupted over police brutality to black bodies and systemic racism was denounced, the wound was lanced open for all to see. As proud white supremacists came out of hiding, flaunted their weapons, and openly terrorized communities, the infection of racism came into full view. As they violently overran the U.S. Capitol, carrying a Confederate flag through its halls, eyes could no longer be averted so as not to see. As the pandemic raged and there were sharp disparities between the numbers of black and brown people dying compared to that of white people, systemic racism's effects were on display.
As disheartening as this all is, we still must dream. We must dream of the possibility of better days of justice, harmony, and peace. Such dreaming is not escaping the hard realities of life in a slumbering lapse into fantasy. Such dreaming is not a "pie in the sky by and by" resignation to the present realities. As Dr. King did, we must dream a dream that casts a vision of what can be, that reignites hope, that give us energy to put legs to the dream, and that encourages us to join hands with others to make it a reality. As Dr. King did, we must dream a dream that taps into the deep wells of Jesus' vision of the reign of God on earth, a reign of justice, peace, and wellbeing for all.
So, let us still dream the dream that Dr. King had - that black and brown people will gain true equality of opportunity and freedom from the systemic racism and brutality they too often encounter. Let us dream of a society in which all people are deeply respected, regardless of race, gender, religion, or position in life. Let us go on to dream of a nation where truth is respected and discourse is civil and productive. Let us dream of being able to join hands and work together to address climate change and transition from a death-producing fossil fuel energy and economic system to one that will sustain life far into the future. Let us dream of banning nuclear weapons and the wasteful destructiveness of war, as Dr. King also urged. Let us dream of using our resources instead to empower those impoverished by our economic systems and policies so that they may have their needs met and live with dignity. Let us still dream.
We have a long way to go, but the same God is with us who placed dreaming into the heart of Dr. King. The same God is with us who gave him vision to imagine a different future, wisdom to lead the way through nonviolence, and courage to endure. Let us recommit ourselves to this way of love, compassion, and nonviolence. And let us work to make the dream more of a reality. So help us, God!
Written by Ruth Rosell, Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence
Posted on January 17, 2021