I am a seventy-year-old white guy who reached adulthood in the late 60’s and early 70’s when there was a general feeling among the youth of our nation that, like today, we were on the brink of a new age of social awakening. In 1979, as a Pentecostal pastor, I founded a church in southern Maryland that had a congregation that was predominately black and ministered there until 2001. Now, I am a Quaker and recently designed a wristband with black and white hands shaking, the words, “Black Lives Matter to Me: and a red heart with a peace sign in the middle to proclaim a commitment to racial justice and harmony in a spirit of peace and love. I am only presenting this to say that as much as I am able, I understand and welcome the peaceful aspects of the BLM movement.
I am, however, deeply concerned that those who are caught up in aggressive/violent protests do not recognize that they are playing right into the hands of our current president. Fearmongering is his primary tactic. It is what propelled him into the White House and is already evident in his political advertising this year. Engaging in acts of destruction is spreading fear among many citizens who might otherwise support a progressive agenda and allowing him to present himself as the only means of restoring law and order.
Consider the accomplishments of those who ‘fought’ for racial equality in the latter half of the 20th century. Their foundational commitment was to non- violent civil disobedience. Their possession of the moral high ground was radiantly clear as they suffered injustice while maintaining a spirit of patience and love. Their efforts led to passage of landmark civil rights legislation and prepared a path straight to the White House for our first African American president.
Your outrage over systemic racism and police brutality is completely justified. However, we live in a democracy ruled by laws enacted by elected representatives. Protests may provide a voice for the disenfranchised, but the election of politicians who share those concerns is the way to bring about meaningful and lasting change.
De you feel a need to do something. If you must protest, take the wind out of Trump’s sails and do it peacefully. If you want to be even more effective, channel that energy into voter registration efforts and create a voting block that is focused and powerful. Coordinate transportation resources for election day that will ensure that everyone has a way to get to and from their voting location. If you live in a state that supports it, help your family members, friends and neighbors utilize early voting or mail-in ballots.
It has been said that in a democracy people get the government that they deserve. In 2016, voter indifference allowed racism to usher Donald J. Trump into the highest elected office in our nation. I pray that we do not repeat this mistake. Let us make every effort to ensure that this year we elect individuals who will faithfully work towards a time when there is truly freedom and justice for all.
We must embrace the final message from our recently departed national treasure, Rep. John R. Lewis.
“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So, I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”