November 9th was filled with pleas, petitions and promises. Some felt shock, while many who campaigned against Donald Trump’s platform, expressed anger at the shock and commitment to keep working. The reality of a Trump election is still unfolding as President Barack Obama finishes his last 10 weeks in office as president of the United States of America. One thing is clear, despite the attempts by both candidates to lay claim that the other was “not us,” and therefore not America, there is no one America, no “us” emerging in the post-election season. Despite the preliminary pleas for unity, the promises to serve all and the petitions to undo Trump’s election, from the rubble of white liberal illusions, an “us” has not yet emerged.
As a faith leader of a tradition that hosts a great deal of theological diversity and affirms that we are woven into an interconnected web of all existence, I can say this without pause: we need to get to work yesterday. I am not shocked or surprised by the America displayed on November 8th. I am not shocked or surprised that 53 percent of white women and 63 percent of white men voted for Trump. I am a white woman, and a lesbian, all too easily wooed by my own particular liberties like marriage equality and all-too-easily distracted from the daily lives of black and Latinx communities, the working poor, indigenous peoples, rural folk, immigrants, Muslims and — yes— even transgender and queer people.
I do believe there is an “us” in America. I believe it can emerge. It led to Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 where poor whites, slaves and the Occaneechi tribe banned together in resistance to the imperialist rule of Gov. William Berkeley. Now, let us be clear — Nathaniel Bacon was no justice saint. His rebellion began by his call for the slaughter of Native Americans who raided “his” land. Noteworthy is how Bacon’s supporters utilized the rebellion to create a resistance that unified poor whites and slaves. Noteworthy is that the governor ultimately suppressed the rebellion by giving poor white freedmen some small rights and privileges against slaves. In the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion, the politics of race was born and “us” was decimated.
White liberals, especially white LGBTQ folks, get to make some crucial decisions in the next few days. It will be possible to stay in shock, fear and grief. It is also possible to resurrect the resistance that sparked once in 1676. It would be possible this day to join the resistance. It will require abandoning things once prized in white liberal culture and listening to the pockets of truth and rage. Preemptive cries for unity and peace will only further the gap at this moment. We are not there yet, folks. It will be tempting to be defensive to those who are angry, to blame those who voted for other candidates or who did not vote because this was another election in which they had no representation. It will seem perfectly reasonable to want to build blanket forts instead of bridges and movement.
But if “us” is to emerge, we will need to get to work. Go into the streets. Show up for a community organizing event. Read the words of black queer leaders. Organize in poor white communities. Stand up. Hold hate accountable. Wear a safety pin. Sit beside the woman on the bus in the hijab and speak up if she is attacked. When truth is posted to social media, seek to self-differentiate and listen to the truth in the rage.
We can do this. I cannot. You cannot, but we can do this. We almost did once. This is afterall “us,” America.
info: Rev. Robin Tanner is the lead minister for Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church in Charlotte and Salisbury, N.C.