SUSAN K. SMITH
GEORGE CURRY MEDIA
The takeover of the U.S. House floor led by civil rights icon John Lewis over the lack of House action on gun control was exciting to see.
House Democrats decided to “agitate,” a primary function of direct actions done to force social change, and Republicans reacted as might be expected – tossing off the sit-in as a mere publicity stunt and shutting down the House until July 5.
Time for reflection
The sit-in made me think, though, of what has always been the spiritual resilience of Black people.
Lewis reminded people that he had to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge three times in the quest to get from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. In spite of violence, in spite of White people scoffing at their efforts to get the right to vote, and in spite of them saying that all the protesters were doing was trying to get attention, the protesters stayed the course. They marched, endured beating and horrendous violence, and kept on moving and working until they crossed that bridge, got to Montgomery and ultimately got the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.
What resilience! Rev. C.T. Vivian said, “Most White people couldn’t survive as Black people.” That is an understatement.
Even though Black people have perpetually fought for civil and human rights in this country, it has been with the knowledge that the forces against them have been behemoth, with the opposition not seeing them as human beings worthy of justice.
Mothers, fathers and families of Black people accused of crimes they did not commit have gone to court with the smallest bit of hope, and have left those same courtrooms after their loved one has been convicted and thrown into prison or worse…with the ability, still, to keep on keeping on.
Black people have kept on going in spite of being passed over for jobs, denied loans and housing, believing that God has heard their cries and that God will make things all right. It is a faith that is hard to define and even harder to understand.
It seems that now, Black people are figuratively “crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge” as the issue of police violence against Blacks is being recorded and exposed. What is being caught on video is not a new thing, but the fact that Black people have the strength to take those videos and keep on fighting for the justice that has never been the reality points to their resilience.
Black people will not give up. This society and its institutions have knocked Black people down for decades, but Black people keep on getting up and keep on fighting.
John Lewis is part of the resilient core of America – that core is made up primarily of Black people but includes allies as well.
Lewis, though, has been fighting the fight for justice in a way that only Black people have had to fight it, for decades. He knows about the resistance of the powers that be. He knows how the power structure will not move unless forced to do so, and he knows the type of opposition the power structure throws out.
He was not at all concerned that Speaker Paul Ryan called the sit-in a publicity stunt. It was. But from years of fighting for justice, Lewis knows that often times it is the publicity stunts that force the powers that be to listen.
Those who have fought an arrogant and resistant power structure know that they will not move unless provoked…and they know that the best provocation ever is to make them look bad.
Republicans look like arrogant White men with nothing on their minds but their relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and “radical Islamic terrorism.” It is ridiculous that they insist that adopting common-sense gun control measures is and would be an abrasion of anyone’s Second Amendment Rights, but it is the platform from which they refuse to move.
Seen it before
Lewis has seen that before, as White folks refused to move from their position that Black people had no rights as Americans. He and others fought, got knocked down, were ignored and were excoriated by the press, but they got up and kept on fighting.
It is a strength that can only be called spiritual. And it is a strength that perhaps the House Republicans will see, even as Lewis and other Democrats, Black and White, continue to fight.
Rev. Susan K. Smith is an author and ordained minister who is founder of Crazy Faith Ministries.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.