I Thought I'd Be Saying...

The Third Reconstruction, part 2

“We must tell America if you think we are just going have one march, or one campaign, you must be out of your mind, because we are going to resist the one moment mentality. We are building a movement, we are building a movement of moral dissent, and we win either way. We win if we win everything we’re fighting for, and we also win if we don’t win it but we sow the seeds for victory in the days to come. But whatever the case, we’re going to walk together children and we’re not going to get weary because it’s time for a Third Reconstruction. It’s time for a Third Renewal. It’s time for a revival of love and hope and truth and justice all over this country.”
William Barber spoke those words last June at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. Barber is a Christian (Disciples of Christ) minister, and an organizer based in North Carolina. We had invited him to address our General Assembly – and now we have selected his book, The Third Reconstruction, as the Common Read for all Unitarian Universalists for this year – because he’s at the fore of a promising and hopeful fusion approach for justice.

Last June, as I arrived at Columbus for General Assembly, it was clear to me, as it was to many of the UUs coming together, that there was something distressing going on in this country. Like many of us, I thought then that the November election would produce a result different from the one it did produce. Even so, the candidate I thought would lose represented something that had been going on for some time, that was much broader, more widespread, than I had imagined as recently as 2015. Already, last June, I was running over in my mind, some of the things I thought I would be saying to you in the weeks and months after the election.

I thought I would be telling you that just because the white supremacists lost this election, doesn’t mean that fear and hatred have been defeated.

I thought I would be telling you that the campaign showed us that, for many of our neighbors, things have not been going as we had assumed.

I thought I would be telling you that in the eight years since the 2008 election, while most of us have felt frustrated that the march of justice and equality has been so bogged down, it turns out that many, many of our neighbors have somehow become alarmed and angry at the tiniest of steps that have been made – and that a lot more of our neighbors than we thought have imagined much bigger change than what we saw.

I thought I would be telling you that these reactive forces were not going away. The reaction against an African American president, reaction against the simple and obvious notion that black lives do matter, reaction against the proposition that the business as usual in this country – i.e., the treating of black or poor lives as if they mattered less than white and wealthy lives – ought to stop – reaction against marriage equality for LGBTQ folk, continuing reaction against women’s reproductive freedom, was bigger than we had imagined.

I thought I would be telling you that even though these forces lost an election, we have to find ways to address the despair from which their fear and hatred grow, for they, too, are children of God, are beings of inherent worth and dignity.

I thought that in the months after the new president was inaugurated, you might need reminding that the work of desegregating and equalizing our schools, extending hospitality to the stranger among us, responding as a people of faith and moral conscience to the refugee crisis, reforming our police forces, providing affordable housing, securing access to reproductive services, dismantling our incarceration nation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting forest and wetland and other habitat, expanding access to quality health care for all, addressing the growing income inequality, creating jobs programs – all that work still needed to be pressed.

And then the election happened. And much of what I thought I would be telling you became too obvious to need mentioning. You don't need any reminding. We face a situation where despair is the bigger problem than complacency.

I thought I would be telling you what I heard William Barber say to us at General Assembly: “We are building a movement, we are building a movement of moral dissent,” -- that “it’s time for a Third Reconstruction. It’s time for a Third Renewal. It’s time for a revival of love and hope and truth and justice all over this country.” And that part holds, because it’s not about who wins this or that election. It’s about awakening and organizing the moral conscience of a nation no matter who happens to be in office. If we win, we win. If we lose, we still win insofar as we plant the seeds of victory in days to come.

What I will say, again, is that spiritual healing is the business of faith institutions. It’s our business. People show up at our door as they show up at the doors of thousands of congregations of many denominations across this country. They arrive heart sick for beloved community, torn inside by the stresses of negotiating a world that demonstratively holds that white lives matter more than black lives, lives of the wealthy matter more than the lives of the poor. We come to places of worship seeking inner peace, for there is no peace for our spirits when millions of our neighbors are mistreated, and have been for generations. There is no peace for our spirits when our country’s policies increase poverty and increase misery and increase cruelty. A faith institution concerned with healing spirits that does not turn its energies to address the social causes that wound our spirits is incompetent. It commits spiritual malpractice.

What I will say, again, is that all the various issues mentioned intersect. They are all products of what we can recognize as a single protective strategy gone wrong. Call it domination. The dominant class seeks to protect its domination with more domination: women must serve men, the poor must serve the rich, people of color must serve whites, the Earth and all her species must serve humans. Ultimately there is a single wound: the disconnection and pain of dominance and inequality. So whether we are marching for peace, for racial justice, or for lower carbon emissions, we are marching for the same healing vision of a fair and caring world.

This insight sometimes goes by the name intersectionality. William Barber doesn’t use that word. His word is fusion. Fusion politics, a fusion coalition, and a fusion movement – that’s what he talks about. Whether the key word is “fusion” or “intersectional” the point is the same: a wide range of justice issues are united by opposition to the ideology of dominance.

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This is part 2 of 3 of "The Third Reconstruction"
See also
Part 1: Truth, Hope, and America
Part 3: More of Us Than of Them

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