My friend posted a photo of two men holding up a sign that read “Love Your Neighbor. Even if they don’t: Look Like You. Think Like You. Love Like You. Pray Like You. Vote Like You. My thoughts kept coming back to this sign. Finally I had to respond, “Even if you are voting to take away my human rights, I still gotta love you?” My friend responded to my comment that he had it on good authority, based on most of the world’s spiritual traditions, that yes, I do have to love that person.
This got me thinking about power. When someone has power over, and abuses someone else, it's not only bad for the victim, it is ALSO bad for the abuser. Take the example of rape. There are many reasons why someone may enjoy inflicting sexual suffering on someone else, and my first concern would always be for the one who is harmed. How can I keep her safe? How can I help her heal? But I truly believe the perpetrator is also in need of healing. For his soul's sake, (whether or not one believes in an afterlife, or in karmic repercussions) it is not doing this human any good to be allowed to go around preying on others. So the very best way for me to Love this person, is to PREVENT THEM FROM BEING ABLE TO HARM ANYONE!
This wealthy country was built upon the genocide of the Native people who lived here, and the stolen labor of enslaved people, kidnapped from Africa. Another way to put that is that our nation was founded on an abysmal lack of empathy, and a profound eagerness to declare nonwhite people inferior and subhuman. This willingness to inflict violence on anyone deemed “the other” proved extremely profitable. Plantation owners raped female slaves whenever they felt like it, and then sold their own offspring, routinely tearing babies away from their mothers to add to their coffers.
This willingness to overlook our shared humanity brought immense riches, not only in the slave holding states of the South, but also to Northern captains of industry who relied on the cotton planted, tended, and harvested by enslaved people. Newport, Rhode Island was a leading port for slave ships, and the early economy of all of New England was enmeshed in the evil business of buying and selling human beings.
In spite of the beautiful words of our Founding Fathers, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,” they really only meant white, property-owning men like themselves. But from the time that North America was still a colony of England, Black people fought for their rights to be free from the torture of slavery. There are over 250 documented slave rebellions in North America, and 485 recorded instances of kidnapped African people revolting on board slave ships. Of course the self-organized involvement of enslaved Black people in the Union Army during the Civil War represents a mighty force of people fighting for their right to be free.
Black women have always been at the forefront of demands for freedom and human rights. It was a Black Woman, Harriet Tubman, who in 1863 planned and executed a raid on Combahee Ferry that freed 750 enslaved people, many of whom went on to join the Union Army. It was a Black Woman, Ida Wells, who in 1892 initiated the nation’s first anti-lynching campaign. It was a Black Woman, Fannie Lou Hamer, who helped and encouraged thousands of Black citizens in Mississippi to become registered voters, and who co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races to run for office. In our own state of Vermont, our only Black female legislator, Representative Kiah Morris, has recently stepped down from her elected office after receiving racist threats.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr famously said “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I love this quote, and I do think he was right, even as the current news of stepped up deportations, children in cages, and emboldened Nazis is terrifying and heart breaking. We must link arms, support one another, and seek out every opportunity to center and uplift those who have been pushed to the margins. In November 2020, Americans will be voting for the world we want to see. Will we vote into office men who want to preserve their power at all costs, or people who believe in everyone’s right to be free?