From rage into vision, we emerge as a people who acknowledge together the bloody journey of this country’s true history, who share the identity of its crucible, and who together want to embark on a new journey, want to tell a new story, a story of justice, compassion, peace and love. The story we claimed in 1776 but betrayed.
Too often when the streets fill with righteous protest of people alienated and outraged by this culture’s violence – which is to say, alienated by its materialism, greed, racism, sexism, domination, and the implicit militarism of capitalism – too often the only message communicated by the media is spectacle and anger, a mob. The protesters, who march to rescue this culture from its habitual injustices, end up being further alienated by a status quo media which describes them en masse as marginal. Nothing pleases power more. American power is inhospitable to people who insist on reminding it of its hypocrisy, its real motives, its crimes. BUT, if the protests go on day after day, carried out by a broad community collective, the protesters are much harder to brand and dismiss. They are us. We begin to ask, first, “What are they saying?” Then, “What are we saying?” What values are we affirming?
That’s not lead but gold running in the streets.
Something even deeper is going on, though, and in that deeper alienation is a painful realization. In order to perform reprehensible acts, we have to deny our own professed values and laws while pretending to uphold them. Our country calls on its citizens to deny those values, turn them inside out, deny basic humanity so majorities can participate willingly in atrocity and call it necessary and good. The inside-out values say that police killing unarmed black people enhances security for whites; drones killing civilians protects us from terrorists; mass incarceration makes good use of law; unequal distribution of wealth, health care, quality education, jobs and housing constitutes a fair economy; stealing voting rights from minorities equals democracy. If we allow our silence to condone such practices, we alienate ourselves from human decency, from respect for other people’s lives, from any hope of participatory democracy. We characterize others as enemies and judge them unfit to live or have the opportunities that make a full life possible. We murder our own dream.
Our identities can sometimes be fabricated more easily out of lies than from truths. The mainstream culture prefers to move on, choosing to forget rather than examine, live in myth rather than compassion.
The alienated people feel responsible for holding on to the truth. The truth is a heavy, awkward, irritating burden in a society which doesn’t acknowledge it. Sometimes it seems that carrying the truth of our history is like pulling a very long freight train as it struggles for miles and miles on an uphill grade. The engine labors, overheats. The engineer is tempted to uncouple 400 years of overloaded boxcars. Who cares? Certainly not the perpetrators of the injustices. They say: “Just let it go; dragging all that history is slowing progress.” Saying “progress,” they mean profit.
That’s why these ongoing affirmations are so important. If we jettison the past, we betray the past. All those boxcars shunted off to oblivion tell us who we are. Not who we think we’d like to be, but who we really are. Only by examining that history together can we move into the future together. The true story is humbling, but it’s the only one that unites us.
Stay in the streets.