So much has happened since I took this photo four years ago, when I attended the women’s march with my daughter and a friend from college. It was the day after Trump’s inauguration, and our bodies were packed so tightly we could hardly move. The incredible turnout was a show of strength from those with a more loving vision for the United States, and the mood was mostly joyful, despite the seriousness of our concerns.
Afterwards, there was criticism of the pink hats and discussion of how the march could have been more inclusive. What strikes me looking at the photos todays are all the signs calling for inclusivity and how fundamentally different they were from the hateful messages outside the Capital last Wednesday. My side in this national divide may not always live our ideals fully, but that shouldn’t stop us from asserting those ideals as effectively as we can.
Over recent days, I’ve had several conversations about the divide in the United States and the frightening images of angry white men storming the Capital with weapons, nooses, and certainty that the election was stolen from them. Some of my friends were shocked and horrified, while some felt vindicated, though still horrified. Today, on the day dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. the title of his last book feels strangely appropriate: Where do we go from here? Chaos or Community.
The truth is that no one I’ve spoken to has a comprehensive blueprint, though we each have pieces of what’s needed. I’ve heard calls for redistribution of wealth–since economic inequality historically correlates with political polarization. (Reducing the wealth gap was also one of the points in King’s final book.) I’ve heard calls for greater understanding and respectful dialog with those of opposing views. I’ve heard warnings that dialog with people with racist and sexist views cannot come at the expense of the targets of racism and sexism (or homophobia and transphobia). I’ve heard speculation about how we can stop the spread of misinformation and lies, and mixed reactions to the possibility that powerful social media companies are now in the business of deciding what constitutes the truth.
The piece that has come clear to me in recent days is the need for both power and love.
As Dr King put it: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
This quote comes from a speech that King gave to other ministers on the tenth anniversary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He acknowledged that many of them were uncomfortable with the word power, which he described as the ability to get what you want, such as better wages for workers. In other words, we can have the best ideals in the world, but we won’t be able to implement them without power, whether that’s the solidarity of a union, electoral power, or the power that comes from nonviolent direct action.
Many people in my circles started to realize this in the last four years, even if they didn’t use King’s language for it. We saw that power without love is reckless and abusive, committed only to its own perpetuation. And we got glimpses of what love could do when we marshaled our collective power.
We realized that showing up in mass at airports made a difference in stopping the Muslim ban. And we realized that we didn’t have enough power to stop kids from being put into cages. We realized that we had the ability to elect candidates who spoke for us, and that we didn’t have enough of them in the Senate to stop Supreme Court appointments that many of us found heartbreaking. In unprecedented numbers, people voted and encouraged others to vote, despite a pandemic. We called local officials and encouraged them to count every vote, a strategy that ultimately worked. Trump didn’t have enough power to overturn the election result, but he had enough to spur a backlash against it.
It was Trump’s 2016 election that prompted me to start teaching online courses for individuals and groups working to make their activism more powerful. Although I’d love to say this is no longer needed, the events at the Capital last week convince me that it’s needed more than ever. Our power doesn’t rest in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It rests in the movements that put them in office. These movements need to continue growing in skill, strategy, and love if we want to protect ourselves from those who are threatened by a multi-cultural democracy, let alone seize this moment to make progress on racial justice, climate justice, and correct “everything that stands in the way of love,” as Dr. King put it.
I launched a new online course right before I dove into the work for Choose Democracy, so I didn’t get to publicize Finding Your Role in this Moment of Social Change as much as I planned to. With the election behind us, I’ve updated two of the videos and am relaunching it again today–with a special MLK Day commitment.
In honor of Dr King’s courageous work building power with love, I’m donating 30% of all of today’s course proceeds to a Black-led organization that organizes for justice, POWER Interfaith, which I have worked closely with as a leader of Earth Quaker Action Team.
I hope you can join. Or if you already have or this isn’t for you, help spread the word to those who might be eager for these skills. The ideals of love are too important to let them just be sentiments.