Last night, five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot at a protest rally in Minneapolis, allegedly by members of a white supremacist movement. Whether or not they had formal ties to a white supremacist movement is ultimately irrelevant. What matters is that last night, in the United States of America, five black people were shot by three white people, because they were trying to find a greater degree of fairness and equality.
This is who we are now.
It feels as if we are slowly and inexorably backsliding. We are adrift in between moments in history, and every day it feels like the momentum is swinging us towards the past, or perhaps instead towards a future so bleak, that it makes our past look positively halcyon. We are becoming a nation that is more interconnected than ever before, tied to each other through cell phones and tablets and laptops, yet also a nation that is cold and unfeeling and unflinching.
Sure, the people around you are not like this, you will say to yourself. The people who do these things are a small, scattered, disorganized group of crazies. But ask yourself this — why does it keep happening? Why do they keep coming? Because the consequence of our inter-connectivity is that it becomes easier to spread fear and anger and distrust. And so, we have become a nation that feeds on fear and anger and distrust. We fear the rise of immigrants, we fear women, we fear minorities. We have an army of leaders (led by a repugnant mockery of the American dream called Donald Trump) who will use and twist and manipulate that fear. They will grab us by our throats and choke us with it, and somehow we think that if we believe in their fears, if we buy what they’re selling, the grip that draws out our last breaths will somehow loosen, instead of tightening. It will not. The Trumps of the world seek not to save us, they seek not to loosen that grip. They seek to take our last breaths to sustain themselves, allowing them to clench our throats that much tighter.
They seek to make these events like last night, like the events of the weekend, where a black man was assaulted by a crowd at a Trump rally, and make these things the norm. Make them acceptable. These are the people who refuse to acknowledge racism when it is on prominent display not because they do not believe it is there, but because they realize that it can and will serve them. They refuse to save us from guns and shootings, even when it’s happening in churches and schools, when its victims are worshippers and children. They refuse to take the cause of women forward, seeking to take their choices and rights away. They do these things because the fear it creates keeps them alive.
Some will try to say that we cannot lay these crimes and acts at the feet of our people and our leaders. I say we must. I say we all bear some of the responsibility for these things, for they do not happen in a vacuum. These are things that do not happen in other countries with either the frequency or the viciousness that they happen here. These are becoming uniquely American problems.
It is time for us to be better. To work harder, to strive for more. To listen, and learn, and act. Our choices don’t always seem great — who we vote for, what laws we can control, what we can do. There is a feeling of helplessness, because these things keep happening. We feel as if that momentum, that pull towards a bleak and cold future, is sometimes unstoppable. It is often said that after Newtown, the fight for gun control was lost. I refuse to accept that, because if I accept that, then I must also accept that after Minneapolis, the fight for black lives is lost, and after the Texas defunding, the fight for women’s rights is lost. These are battles lost, but not wars.
So all this really is, despite its bleak and resigned tone, is a plea. The world is a vast and strange and complicatedly beautiful place, and we cannot give up on it. Our choices do not always seem great, but there are choices. Each of them is critical, even the smallest. Each tiny act of goodness and kindness makes a change, and eventually, those changes will make incremental progress. There are days when we will feel like we’re throwing a rock at a mountain, expecting it to move. But the comparison is a poor one, because we will never win by throwing a stone, or waiting for someone to throw it for us. Progress has never been a single stone. It is a million stones, a billion, thrown together. It is an avalanche, and it breaks mountains and changes the course of rivers. But getting there is, and always will be, slow. Slow, but inevitable.
Keep throwing those rocks, people. Because this is not who we are now. We’re better. We’ll be better. And someday, the mountain will move.
“Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?”