After the election: Answering the knock

After the election I remembered this quotation by Martin Luther King, Jr., from his speech Beyond Vietnam at the Riverside Church in 1967:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.

I, too, sat up with my family late on Tuesday night watching as the map recording the election results turned blue in Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New York; red in Georgia, North Carolina, and Nebraska. It was moving to witness such engagement and determination – for so many to know that their vote would make a difference. A friend posted an image on Facebook of a woman who was in labor and on her way to deliver her baby, but insisted on stopping on her way to the hospital to vote.

It was gratifying to see that when people’s hearts are in the game, they will stand in line for hours, stay until it’s over, commit to do what it takes and that money alone doesn’t determine our elections.

Seeing such engagement reminded me of the first days of the Occupy movement, the way people made community on slabs of concrete and found ways to feed one another and come together to talk about what kind of people we want to be, want to become.

And then there was Hurricane Sandy, which struck a little over a week ago and helped reveal what kind of people we are.  Seeing people come together to support one another, to offer shelter and compassion, and to extend hands was moving. And, in the midst of the storm and much kindness, there are stories that reveal the fissures in our community.  

There is the story of the African American woman from Staten Island who beat on doors trying to get help to save her two children from drowning and no one opened the door.

There are the many families in Far Rockaway who had nowhere to go, who got left behind. There are the many men and women who are service workers in Manhattan, who risked losing their jobs if they went home and instead stayed and served more privileged victims of the storm.

There are the incarcerated men, women, and adolescents on Riker’s Island. When asked about their safety and whether they would be evacuated, Mayor Bloomberg seemed confused that anyone would express concern for them.  He said, “Don’t worry about anybody getting out.”

Hurricane Sandy, “Frankenstorm,” came around one week before the election and revealed the extent of social and climate chaos that faces us. We are in the midst of a great shaking that will result either in our destruction or our atonement; we are called to remember that we are one people and one creation. But to get there will require a huge movement and great love.

Every election ends with winners and losers. The bitterness of defeat or the exhilaration of victory can be forces that extend the cycles of violence. So, what happens next is key.

I would contend that this is no time for pride for either side. Working for change in the spirit that Martin Luther King, Jr., describes above—with fierce love, determination, clarity, and the strength to endure suffering and backlash—takes courage.

To speak the truth that we see, to push against the status quo, to work for the transformation of the Jericho road into a road of justice and peace we must remember to love our neighbors and enemies as children of God. Working for transformation means being willing to break cycles of dominance and oppression and to pray for grace. It means answering the knock of a stranger on our door and thinking of the neighbors who may not be our friends.

As we rekindle our passion for justice, as we remember that movements don’t begin or end with the election of a president but with our collective willingness to risk and to struggle, let us do so with the power of love. Let us unlock the door of justice and speak love with power.