On what was supposed to be a great day of honor and celebration for a man and his dream, I woke up and found myself inundated with words of judgement, division, narcissism.
Words of fear.
And I found myself asking, ‘what has become of us?’
What has become of a place founded on diversity, freedom of choice and freedom of speech, among so many other beautiful ideals? What has become of a people who fought with their lives to be free of tyranny? What has become of the idea that if you worked hard and with integrity, you could achieve the American Dream? What happened to a people that came together to create their dream lives? What happened to a place where “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” was of utmost importance?
And yet here I was, on this great day, witnessing not the honoring of a dream of unity, but rather, witnessing a state of panic, of vilification, of judgment for that which is different, and of division. Where everyone, regardless of their views, felt afraid on some level to express their beliefs and opinions.
And tears began to fall.
They fell for congressman John Lewis who was once an organizer and speaker in 1963 at the March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” address and also walked in fear and hope in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama for voting rights, and was met with bloodied beatings during that march for freedom and equality.
They fell because the undertone of division and disgust being expressed with the public boycott from the Democratic party of the upcoming inauguration reminded me of a part in Dr. King’s historic speech where he warned, “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
They fell for a President Elect who was elected because of people’s desires for something different than the lies and back room agendas that we have become accustomed to with many previous political candidates, yet doesn’t see how important and needed it is to become a leader “of the people, for the people” and threatens to further polarize and divide a nation already on shaky ground.
They fell for a young high school student afraid to wear her hijab to school for fear of being bullied, teased or beaten up because of her religious and cultural identity.
And they fell for a young high school student at that same school afraid to wear a “Make American Great Again” hat or express her Republican opinions because as her dad warned her, she could be “bullied, teased and beaten” for her opinions and beliefs.
They fell because we can’t see that we’re all saying the same things. They fell because we, a nation of diverse people who have always fought for the freedom to exercise our speech, our religious ideologies, our right to peaceably assemble, are now vilifying one another for exercising these exact rights.
In Dr. King’s famous speech, he said, “I still have a dream. I have a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
All men are created equal.
He did not say all men who believe alike are created equal. He said ALL men. And even though we may not agree with one another, it is that much more important that we agree to disagree, respect one another, and with compassion and tolerance, look for a common ground.
Find the common ground of being equals, or being free, and respect one another as such.
Again in Dr. King’s famous address, he describes his dreams of unity and freedom, ending by saying, “When we allow freedom to ring-when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.'”
All of God’s children. Free at last.
Not only the children who believe in God. Not only the children who do not believe in God. Not only the children who believe in government services. Not only the children who believe in less government involvement. Not only the children who believe as we believe. But all of God’s children. And he goes on to specifically note people of opposing views, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Gentiles, black men and white men. I believe he makes note of these groups to make a larger point.
A point of unity and compassion for each other regardless of individually held beliefs.
His dream was for unity, freedom and the American Dream for all. A place where people aren’t afraid to express their opinions and experiences. A place where people aren’t shamed for not holding a socially popular view of some issue. A place where people aren’t afraid to worship freely. A place where people aren’t shamed because of skin color, sex, age, size, shape or creed. A place where, within the freedom and safety to express ourselves freely, we might listen without judgement, grow in awareness, learn, open up to something or someone new or different and grow as a people.
A place of equality, of compassion, of acceptance and of tolerance.
And as my tears fell, they also began to wash away the division and bitterness I saw before me and something new began to take root. A dream of hope and opportunity began to plant its seed. An idea that this was actually an opportunity to connect through the face of fear and division.
An opportunity for a new beginning.
An opportunity that we use the fear we are currently faced with for connection. An opportunity that we choose to see that we share in this fear together and use our collective fear to unite us. And instead of falling into the victim roles and pointing our fingers at those who don’t hold our same views, we choose to look at ourselves and our leaders and, rather than disrespecting them and the offices they hold, we choose to hold them and ourselves responsible. We choose to hold them and ourselves up to a higher standard, we choose to take responsibility for our own actions and act in integrity and acceptance of what we do not understand or agree with and meet disagreements with curiosity, compassion and tolerance.
That we choose to agree to disagree, respectfully. That we choose to view one another as different but equal. The we choose to celebrate our differences.
That we choose to find unity in the face of division.
And I hope that we seize this opportunity to connect through these moments and choose to come together to create a world where we can safely dare to dream once again.