On January 6, watching events unfold at the Capitol on my tv screen, I was seized by a visceral need to be connected with the SURJ members I have been growing closer to these past months, most of whom I’ve never met beyond a computer screen. The Capitol had been breached by thousands of mostly white, mostly male, far-right Trump supporters, whose goal it was to stop congressional certification of the Electoral College vote and to overturn the will of the American voters.
In the midst of all my tumultuous feelings, all of this chaos broadcasted in living color, an email landed in my inbox from national SURJ director Erin Heaney. There was to be a call at 8pm with The Frontline, a black-led, multiracial, working class coalition of social justice movement groups of which SURJ is a member. Joining in a call with like-minded fellow accomplices who felt the joy of the Georgia run-off election and the rage and disbelief of the attempted coup in DC seemed to be the sensible thing to do. Just the ticket.
Almost as soon as I got on the Zoom call, I imagined being encircled with comrades, sharing the weight of these deeply mixed emotions that were also reflected on the faces of the panelists: joy that the hard work of decades of organizing on the part of POC in Georgia resulted in flipping the Senate; and anguish at witnessing the naked display of white supremacism at the Capitol. I dashed off an email to the LC listserv — “I hope some of you are able to tune in…” — and heard from four others who were watching the Zoom event. I visualized us sitting in front of the glow of the computer screen, maybe alone, maybe with a two-legged or four-legged companion, alone but not alone, taking courage from Rev. Sekou, Ash-Lee, Nelini, and the others. Not alone!
Rev. Osagyeto Sekou, noted activist, theologian, and musician, called on our ancestors for courage and joy. He said, “There is a well…We come from a people that have seen and understood and endured; there was darkness but they never let the darkness have the last word…Their music would always lament but they never let the lament have the last word, that is what the blues is about… we can not allow the worst of this place to steal our joy. This joy that I have the world did not give to me and the world can’t take it away…”
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-founder of the coalition The Frontline, co-executive director of the Highland Center, whose words and humor and biting intellect move me to tears every time, had this to say: “Let’s take a moment to just acknowledge all that we’re holding in this moment, to recognize that in this space there is room for all of our feelings. There is importance in taking the time to feel them. So for those of you that are coming to this call, anxious, scared, terrified, pissed off because of what you saw today, we see you. For those of you that are still riding the highs of what it means that we built a people’s movement powerful enough to get Trump out of office, that is committed to continuing to do that until we see it through fruition, we see you. For our comrades in Georgia, and all of us around the country and around the world on this call that are celebrating the power of a black-led, multiracial, working class-led coalition that just flipped the Senate, y’all, in the South — as the South goes [so goes the country], we see you. There is space for all of the feelings of uncertainty. All the gratitude for the work that’s been done and will continue to happen. There is space for you on this call. “
Nelini Stamp of the Dream Defenders and the Working Families Party, her heart so visibly on her sleeve — these BIPOC and the other panelists *are* the change they want to see in the world.
Again I encountered the strange vertigo of a white person, a person complicit in white supremacy, being encouraged, reassured, exhorted by people of color who are in the very thick of the war against racial capitalism. To consider the strength of a person with tears of joy and anguish intermingled on her face, head held high, taking a moment from the battle to offer succor — this is a very inspiring thing. I want to do better, I must do better in 2021. And together, there’s more than a fighting chance that we will. Be better.
I invite readers to watch the video and share the inspiration it offers in these chaotic times.
Link to the Zoom event
The webinar closed with the following opportunities for taking action:
— Every night at 6 pm starting 1/6 to bang pots for democracy #6for46
— Join The Frontline for a mass online organizing meeting during inauguration week, save the date 1/16
— Text FRONTLINE to 30403 to join The Frontline
— Sign up for eviction defense training, anti-eviction.net/train starting January 27
— Visit thriveagenda.com to learn more about the THRIVE agenda and to contact your members of Congress