Election Day Lessons: Why I Love My Flawed Republic

For those of you who don’t know, we were living in Shanghai for the last year and returned to the U.S 3 short weeks ago. After traveling through Europe for close to six weeks, we repatriated to our home in Detroit. I’ve spent the last 3 weeks balancing the mighty tasks of unpacking 168 boxes, purging all of our worldly possessions, being a parent and spouse, and attempting to feel like a normal human being. Needless to say, I haven’t had the time to sit and write.

In the wake of a Facebook post I wrote, my husband reminded me that I do have a blog and that instead of “wasting” my thoughts on Facebook, I should perhaps approach this as a Naked Writing Post.

So here it is. These are my unedited thoughts on my own election day dread turned excitement.

I have been dreading this day. And when I say dreading, I mean I wish I had been able to stay out of the country a little longer and vote by absentee ballot. The last few days on social media have been especially painful. The hopeful outlook I’ve held regarding a human beings ability to discern truth and maintain a level of integrity have all but vanished.

I awoke this morning, feeling the weight of duty pressing in. I’ve never been less enthusiastic about voting. The once passionate political geek in me appeared to be all but snuffed out.

We left for school, and as we passed by several polling places, an almost giddy excitement came over me. I had to suppress an urge to yell out the window and say “you go!” as I looked at lines emerging from buildings.

The polling places are teeming with voters. The lines are full of people of all ages, races, economic backgrounds, and religions. I’m standing among a sea of people with amazing stories. There are individuals in line who can trace their family back several generations in the U.S. and have voted in the last 15 elections. There are also people who gave up their citizenship to become American’s a short time ago and are voting for the very first time.

As I thought about these things, it occurred to me just how amazing this all is- this flawed republic of ours. I couldn’t help but reflect on all of the sacrifice that went into creating this nation, and everything that has been fought for to get us to this point.

To think that my right to vote as a white woman was fought for and secured less than 100 years ago is surreal. And as I stand in this space with my black neighbors I am humbled by the realization that they only secured the right to freely and safely exercise the right to vote 51 years ago!

Guys, I am standing with men and women who were not able to vote with their white peers without fear of beating and death, and people who marched during the civil rights era. These people know the weight of what went into securing this right but now stand shoulder to shoulder with individuals of all races casting their votes.

It is a sobering and breathtaking thing to contemplate.

We have come so far in this nation, and while there is much work to be done- this circus will end, and we will soon have a new president-elect. As much as the media, the pundits, and the political machine has taken the wind out of us and made us feel hopeless and divided- let’s not lose sight of who we are, where we’ve come from and where we can go.

Together.

On Riots, Race, and Hope

When the news came out about the unusual and seemingly violent death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, I thought to myself- I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t. I had stayed off social media in the wake of the police shooting of Walter Scott, and my heart and mind couldn’t process any more.

Then Baltimore began rioting. It was madness. People were angry and out of control and looting and violent… Or at least that’s what I heard. An ever apologetic and mainly white liberal media was out there on the front lines of “all hell breaking loose” doing what they thought was in the best interest of someone somewhere.

But the question begs who? Who is benefiting from the story being told by the mainstream media? As far as I know- it’s just them. The rest of us are here watching and reeling and losing hope that anything will ever change; that things will ever get better. The recent string of shootings of black men by police officers has many of us feeling completely overwhelmed.

I will admit that I’ve felt hopeless in the wake of these news stories; so much so, that I had to stop watching and reading for a while. So while CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the like go to the front lines of the Baltimore riots- the rest of us watch in fear for our nation and the future of everyone in it. They laugh all the way to the ratings bank while we wonder if our country is on the verge of race riots.

But here’s the thing. This narrative that the mainstream media is pushing on us is all wrong. They think they’re on the cutting edge, bringing the plight of the black community to the nation; and what they’re really doing is speaking into the preexisting prejudices many Americans have against black Americans. “Black people riot and loot,” “they lack leadership and fathers,” “they are always blaming someone else for their problems” and so on and so on it goes.

This narrative tells us that people in the black community are mad, disenfranchised and left to fend for themselves; and that the riots need understanding. At first glance it seems well-meaning; an apologists effort to simply share a story and help people think about things in a different and more understanding light, right? But it’s all so wrong. What it really does is undercuts the uniqueness of every individual American experience, as well as experiences within the black community as a whole. It not only misses the truth, but it also propagates lies and prejudices.

Let’s think for a moment about the viral video in which mom finds kid rioting, mom beats kids. Some people were uncomfortable with such a display of violence, but most people thought it was great and they heralded this mother as some hero; as if this was an unusual phenomenon. While the initial compliments seemed genuine enough, the underlying assumption is that black moms and black parents don’t do this enough.

I live in Detroit. I also live in a predominately black neighborhood, and for those of you who don’t know me or haven’t seen my bio pic- I am about as white as they come. I feel privileged to call this my home and community. While I have the privilege of living in a more racially diverse neighborhood; outside of a large city, many people don’t. Every time I step out into the world around me, I realize how truly distorted this media narrative is, and I am grateful for that.

The actual story in Baltimore isn’t about riots or some bad-ass mom who did what she needed to do to protect her son. Baltimore is about so much more. It is about a man named Freddie Gray and what happened to him while in police custody. It is about thousands of people coming together to speak on behalf of his and others silenced voices. It’s about pastors and parents and individuals doing good, marching in unity, standing in solidarity against the rioters, protecting the police, protecting the public, speaking out in peaceable anger, and demanding justice. It’s about kids, families, business owners, and community leaders coming together to clean the mess and devastation left by rioters.

If we really want to see change take place, we will need to dig deeper so that our information doesn’t come packaged and delivered to our television or computer screens via mainstream media. Better yet, let’s turn it off and take a step outside into the world. The truth is out there- in communities, in churches, and in relationships with one another.

The In-Between

So here’s a question. When you live in a city surrounded by poverty and blight- what do you do? How do you live? Do you harden? Walk a little faster as you pass poverty on your way to a $5 latte? Accept that life has hardships, and forget the faces you see as they disappear into that space beyond memory?

Or do you live somewhere in imperfect tension- the place I call the in-between?

I am asking myself this question now. As I sit in my local downtown coffee shop, I realize I am surrounded by homeless people. At the moment, it appears 80% of the people resting in here are likely without housing, food, or access to a shower or change of clothing. One woman sleeps in a chair. She is dressed in jeans, a long shirt, a winter cap, and shoes; and she’s wearing a garbage bag on the outside of her clothing. Upon sitting, I feel compelled to buy everyone a beverage of some sort. But I don’t want to make assumptions or offend anyone, so I wait. This is going to be a fairly regular place for me to come and rest and allow my thoughts to unfold. I’m sure I will get to know all of the faces and characters as time passes.

Just as I settle into a good writing spell, I see one of the workers come over and shake the sleeping woman to the point she has to wake. When she wakes for a moment- the employee tells her she has to go and cannot sleep here.

I get it, I do. But I wonder what it must be like to be this employee; seeing people in need and having to ask them to leave? I can’t help myself. I get up, buy her an iced tea and a gift card, so she can buy herself a drink later. She may or may not be homeless. I don’t know. But she looks in need, and at a minimum- she’s tired. I figure the least I can do is extend myself in a gesture toward dignity for this woman.

The truth is- I have and continue to live a life of privilege. I do not know what it’s like to be without clothing, food, or a home. I do not know what it’s like to find comfort and rest inside a coffee shop because I have no other options.

I do know that playing judge and jury to a story I know nothing about- is not how I want to live my life.

We all have a story. We share this much. We have all been born into brokenness in varying degrees. We have all made decisions, been dealt circumstances beyond our control, struggled through failure and regret, and been in need of grace.

I’m trying; as flawed as it might be, to straddle the in-between. I’m attempting to live in that messy space full of unanswered questions and doubt. I would rather live life open-handed, giving freely as I can.

I may not be able to change the government, people, addictions, mental illness or homelessness. But subtle acts of human kindness can and do restore a sense of worth in people. And that is powerful. That is what we all hunger, and something we can all extend to one another.

Shattered Silence

Profound impact is delivered in a number of ways. Mine, came in the form of a movie. How wonderful it is to have film today; to have the ability to join in and bear witness to such emotion, such beauty, and such horror. What a privilege it is to sit comfortably in a theatre or home and take these images and stories in. There is a power in seeing and hearing. I found myself thinking this as I sat and watched the story of Selma unfold on the screen before me.

I was born into a media age, and as such, have little appreciation for the relative newness, power and role that film has played in our history. I had almost zero understanding of the role that journalists and film played in the civil rights movement, particularly when it came to Dr. King. He and those close to him understood the power of the visual story. Where they went, the media followed. A once small and insignificant town, would be thrust beneath the glaring eye of media scrutiny when they showed up. The corrupt and abusive authorities who once tormented, terrorized and brutalized African-American’s in virtual anonymity, would then have to carry on in the light.

For those under 40, the civil rights movement is little more than an historical time marked in textbooks. It was a time so horrible and strange, that many of us find it difficult to grasp and identify with. We have learned about it through school and media. And while some have been privileged enough to hear stories from family or friends who marched and protested; for many, it is a space in history that has only been further muted by distance and indifference.

Watching this movie was a tremendous sensory experience and there were times when I felt like the weight of the film would crush me. But I sat and I watched and I took it all in- every sight, every sound, every word, every facial expression, and every interaction. The emotion was raw and palpable. The story was wretched and beautiful; and both the wretched and beautiful fought to overcome the other. In less than two hours I bore witness to the humanity of a man, the grace and elegance of a woman, and the bravery and determination of countless men, women and children in the face of unparalleled evil.

At times I found myself nodding my head like a parishioner in the church of justice. Other times I was overtaken by emotion. I sat and sobbed. My body literally shook in grief for all that was done and all that is still done; for all that was fought for and for all that is still to be fought for. I allowed it in. It was the very least I could do to honor Dr. King, his legacy, and those who have fought and suffered so greatly.

I watched the screen as a mother held her sons broken and bullet-riddled body after he was shot by an officer of the law for walking in the street. Instead of choking back the tears and reminding myself this was just a movie- I thought about my two sons. My two beautiful sons- children with whom I’ve had the privilege of walking beside during their journey into adolescence; gifts I get to unwrap and experience on a daily basis. If I’m really blessed, I will have the privilege of watching them grow into men. What a joy it will be for me as a mother to watch them blossom and grow, to encourage their interests and passions, and to marvel at the men they become. I sat with this weight and contemplated what it must have been like for this particular mother and countless others who couldn’t simply bask in pride; but had to fear for their babies lives. And I wept for those mothers who held their babies bodies- bloodied and broken and without breath- lives stopped short because of hate and power and silence.

And it’s that silence that I want to shatter. That silence that rolls it’s eyes at yet another topic involving racism. That silence that tells us that racism no longer impacts a large number of people, that these are stories without relevance in today’s United States, and that people should just move on. And let’s not be fooled by the idea that silence is passive. It is as active and hard working as non-violence has and continues to be. It bullies and shames. It feeds, strengthens and emboldens racism. It is the enemy of reconciliation, justice, and peace. And it must come to an end.

It is time to shatter the silence.