Run the Race, Keep the Faith
In early November 2014 the UU World magazine published a reflection by Peter Morales, the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, in which Morales said that the work of bringing justice to our world is a marathon, not a sprint.
He is right.
I was at the Millions March NYC on Saturday, along with tens of thousands of others. The march was permitted, making it legal, and it took place mostly during the daytime, which made the event more friendly to families with children and to anyone who cannot risk arrest due to immigration status or prior arrests. It was organized by two young black women, Synead Nichols and Umaara Elliott, and it was huge.
How huge? Just check out this time-lapse footage taken over an hour and a half to see how many people took to the streets to demand justice for Eric Garner in New York City and for all the black people killed by police throughout our country.
The march was a long one, traveling from Washington Square Park up to 32nd Street and then all the way back downtown to police headquarters. I’ll admit, I was tired by the end of it. My legs were sore, I was cold, my hands were numb, my voice was strained, I was hungry. But I was nowhere near as tired at the end of that march as I am tired of police killing unarmed black people and not even going to trial for it. And if I’m tired – me, this petite cisgender white woman who has never lost any loved ones to gun violence of any kind, who never fears police will be violent toward my closest friends and family – if I’m this tired, then how outrageously exhausted must my black friends, colleagues and neighbors be?
This marathon, it has been going on for awhile. Maybe you, like me, thought that the #blacklivesmatter hashtag started after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. But in fact, the hashtag was started by two queer black women after Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida in early spring of 2012. The activist hashtag is older than I thought it was, but the struggle against state sanctioned killing of black people in this country is so very much older than any hashtag, stretching back decades and centuries. In an article for NewsOne in August 2014, Donovan Ramsey discusses the ways that police killings of black people mirror lynchings of the early 20th century, both in frequency and in the terror they spread. As Michelle Alexander famously pointed out in her acclaimed book The New Jim Crow, an old system of racism that relied on lynching and segregation has been replaced by a new system of racism that uses the criminal justice system, relying on incarceration and police killing.
Read the UUA Common Read selection, “The New Jim Crow”. Learn what the UUA does to end the system of Mass Incarceration, and support our efforts to create justice for all.
So many people have been running this race against violence for years. But it is a newer race to me. It is newer because I am 29 years old and was not around for the old Jim Crow, and it is newer because I am white and wasn’t forced to learn firsthand about racism in the policing and criminal justice system as a child, unlike many of my peers of color. I am called by my Unitarian Universalist faith, by my convictions, by my love for other human beings, to run this race. But anyone can tell you it isn’t wise to run a marathon without proper training.
What kind of training do I need for this long distance push? As a white person, I need training in how to run like an ally. This video by YouTube user chescaleigh gives a good overview of what that means.
For other tips, especially on how to march and protest like an ally, you can check out this succinct list with some specific guidelines.
However, while we do need training, it’s also important to remember that there is no one perfect way to run this race. Everyone, especially us white allies, is going to take a wrong turn from time to time, get a side cramp, stumble. This is one hell of a marathon, stretching back to the very founding of our country, and the end does not seem to be in sight. But we, as a nation, are running strong these days. From the “Justice for All” rally in Washington DC on Saturday to the blockade of the Oakland Police Department in the Bay Area, from youth walking out of school in Denver to congressional staffers walking out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, from football players wearing their protest to police officers joining in, we are not stopping.
So let’s keep running this race together, with deep love and determination. You can check out the Ferguson Response Network to join an action near you, you can donate money to organizations such as Ferguson Defense Fund, or lobby your legislators to promote these national demands from Black Lives Matter. This is no trendy sprint based on a few cases of injustice; this is a long-haul marathon based on complex systems of oppression. And we will keep running this race, to save black lives and to redeem the very soul of our society.