When I stepped into the cavernous hall where the Democratic Party held its national convention last week in Philadelphia, I hadn’t expected to step into a spiritual revival.
Then Rev. William Barber of North Carolina stepped onto the stage and ignited a flame in the almost 5,000 delegates who filled the hall when he called on each of us to embrace our deepest moral values. When he said, “I'm so concerned about those that say so much, about what God says so little, while saying so little about what god says so much,” all around me people cheered and praised.
But I knew I was watching something special when the crowd thundered as he spoke to us about being called on to act as the “moral defibrillators of our time.”
“We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can't give up on the heart of our democracy,” he exhorted.
As I watched the Rev. Barber make this historic call for justice on a night when Democrats voted for the first time for a woman as their presidential nominee, I was overcome with optimism. But it was a buoyancy tinged with wariness and frustration.
Because I wondered yet again – is this the call for equality and fairness, for the moral dismantling of a system that oppresses people of color that Americans will finally heed?
This has been a hard few weeks. I grappled - as did so many in the nation and the world – with the back-to-back pain and loss of two more black men killed by police, followed immediately by the killings of five police officers in my hometown of Dallas and then three officers in Baton Rouge.
Our communities are shocked by these tragedies that seem to play out on endless loops. And we pray. And pray some more.
We hold vigils and church services and gather for cathartic kumbaya moments.
But they do nothing to address the structures that created what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “airtight cage of poverty.” They do nothing to fix the outsized burden that black people shoulder of being unfairly targeted by law enforcement. They do not stop the record number of black and brown Americans fed to a voracious system of mass incarceration that spits them out and leaves them unable to find work and live with dignity.
They do not address the inherent unfairness that allows black and brown students in Dallas’ south side to attend a crumbling high school where they drink contaminated water, worry about asbestos and suffer the heat with no air conditioning, while the predominantly white students in the north side enjoy brand new school buildings.
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In black and brown communities across the nation, we live every day with the reality that our lives have lesser value.
Our communities are over policed, under employed and under resourced.
And frankly, we’ve had enough.
Our communities are simmering with anger and frustration over the disparities that exist between us and those with privilege. America can no longer afford to continue to ignore it, sidestep or sweep aside.
We must heed the call to engage in a moral revolution that dismantles the structures that oppress people of color. I liken it to keeping a house full of spider webs, where you work to clear the webs, but do nothing to address the spiders in your midst. The spiders will continue to spin their webs.
As a nation we engage in efforts or acts of charity to feed those we deem to be in need, the hungry or homeless or poor, but we don’t bother with the hard work to correct the forces that give rise to the hunger and poverty.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. Violence has no place in my revolution. When I call for a moral revolution, I am advocating for a non-violent revolution of the mind, of the heart, of the soul.
The “have-nots” must awaken to their value and engage in the politics of disruption. They must speak out that they will not take any more and will no longer settle. The movement for black lives and the progressives who pushed for Bernie Sanders show that people are making their voices heard.
But this is a multi-sided call that must include the “have-gots,” those with privilege and money and power. People, such as Hillary Clinton, who has spoken about how her white privilege has helped her navigate the world, even in the face of personal challenges. These people must be our allies in the revolution, recognizing that their privilege is built on the oppression of others.
After the Dallas shooting, a white progressive friend sent me a text expressing not just how sad he was, but how he understood how his privilege contributed to the resentment and pain in the black community. He was determined, he said, to speak out about we should all benefit from privilege and opportunity and that all of our lives should be equally valued. This is how we act with faith and conviction.
We can no longer go back to business as usual. We must become the moral center that turns all of our communities into spiritual revivals that produce moral and social revolution so that those struggling to get by can rise above their circumstances, the oppressed are set free and everyone knows the true measure of economic justice.