Where do we go from here?

Where do we go now to come together?  It is all about activism and service?  Could it be about something simpler, but perhaps more difficult?  Friendships with people with whom we disagree?  How to we rebuild the house that is divided?

We have firmly become flat characters in narratives.  The good and the evil. The pink hatted; the red hatted.  We hear the same words of the new President; for some it is hopeful and others hateful.  Why?  Because we are human and we want to belong to the tribe that surrounds us, and so we speak to belong?  It is nothing new.  We have turned on each other as Americans have in the past.  What is the way out?

Let us go back in time for perspective.  It is June 16, 1858, and we are listening to Lincoln’s House Divided Speech during his unsuccessful bid for a Senate Seat.  Although beloved now, it was very controversial at the time.  The words cost Lincoln the Senatorial election, but it made him a statesman for the world and all time.

On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all the other.

Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect.  Herndon saw the political price for the words, “when I saw Senator Douglas making such headway against Mr. Lincoln’s house divided speech I was nettled & irritable, and said to Mr. Lincoln one day this — ‘Mr. Lincoln — why in the world do you not say to Mr. Douglas, when he is making capital out of your speech, — ‘Douglas why whine and complain to me because of that speech. I am not the author of it. God is. Go and whine and complain to Him for its revelation, and utterance.’ Mr. Lincoln looked at me one short quizzical moment, and replied ‘I can’t.'”

Herndon said later “Lincoln as a statesman, and political philosopher, announced an eternal truth — not only as broad as America, but covers the world.”

I was lucky enough to be in DC for the Inauguration  and at the Women’s March both of which were attended by friends that were passionately participating in citizenship that the ceremonies, galas and on the streets.    I saw how moved my friends J and K were to the words of the Inauguration Speech.  Let’s take a look at what was said.   Where is the what so and where we can agree? Here is what I can agree with.   Let’s talk about these things.  Can we?

  • True.  A nation exists to serve its citizens.
  • True.  Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
  • True.  But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
  • Great idea.  We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
  • Great idea.  We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
  • I like this.  We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
  • I like this too.  We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.  When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
  • I like this.  We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
K asks me, “If you wouldn’t mind I would love for you to tell me what you feel is the purpose of this movement and what is the outcomes you’re committed to producing?”  I say, “It is simply equality for women.  Same pay.  Same control over our bodies. Mutual respect for our bodies and potentials.”  Here is how he hears it and what he says.
K:  “Anything that changes the hearts and minds of people is there’s a clear compelling message the people can understand and get on board for. I don’t see that right now I just see a bunch of angry people [who the news] puts on all the time.  It is off putting but what I saw in some of the pictures and from some of my friends sharing their participation today was Joy freedom and independence from suppression. That has an appeal.”
Beth:  “I saw no angry people today.”
K:  “My guess is that what it looks like right now is the beginning of something really great and it’s messy and awkward like anything when it first starts.”
Beth:  “Of course and when it’s being seen in the beginning it is not clear.”
K:  “I say this is authentically as I can. I live my life out of a possibility for all people…. that tone that arrogance [and] stupidity of relating to people like they’re idiots and that is the enemy . . . [Saying] ordinary people are stupid deplorable and irredeemable and those people are not that they’re just people. Scatter[ed] attacks on anything that doesn’t agree with one’s position is not going to get social change to take place effectively. It will just slow it way down.”
Beth:  “You are right. So where do we go from here?”
K:  “Hell I don’t know.”
Beth “You do know.”
K:  “It would be good if you answered my question about what’s the purpose I’m going to the outcomes. I always start there – if you get clear about that the path to producing it becomes pretty obvious.  What is the purpose? What are the outcomes that you’re committed to producing?
Beth:  “Equality for men and women.”
K:  “Well what would it look like if you were successful and you achieved your mission. What would start happening that isn’t happening? What would stop happening that is happening? What would we see more of? What would we see less of? And what would be a Eradicated?”
Now we are talking, and a house is being rebuilt.

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