​Take on Trump: We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton has caused understandable anger, pain and devastation among many in the United States, particularly among the groups he repeatedly targeted during his vitriolic campaign.

Muslims. Women. African-Americans. Immigrants. People with disabilities.

Searches about how to leave the country make sense for those riveted with fear about what will happen to them once Trump, buoyed by Republican majorities in the Senate and House, assumes office in January.

Yet those of us who believe that the nation and the world belong to all of us cannot lose hope, energy or focus as we confront this new, uncertain and even frightening reality.

We’ve got too much work to do. We who are privileged by virtue of birth or by circumstance need to stand and speak up louder in support of and with those vulnerable members of our society.

This means white people who oppose white supremacy; men who consider sexual assault and the degradation of women reprehensible; straight people who don’t want people of other sexual orientations to be abused for being who they are; US citizens who honour the contributions made to our country by so many immigrants; People who are not disabled who believe that people with disabilities should be treated with respect, not mockery.

In these dark times we need to remember the courage of people who have weathered hardship before us.

People such as civil rights and human rights activist Ella Baker, who laboured fiercely and ceaselessly for decades for all types of justice. Baker encouraged young activists such as John Lewis to start their own organisation and not to be incorporated in Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes,” she declared in a song that the a capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, memorialised. “Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons.”

Baker fought until the end of her life for women’s rights, Puerto Rican independence and racial equality. She never gave up. Neither should we.

We can draw strength and inspiration from the life and memory of Bayard Rustin, who served years in jail during World War II as a conscientious objector.

Rustin worked ceaselessly then and afterward to organise people working for greater levels of justice. He went through dark days from outside and in the movement, where some key leaders saw his homosexuality as a liability and drove him into exile but returned and stood up when King asked him to organise the 1963 March on Washington.

This time, the movement stood behind Rustin when Strom Thurmond read the contents of an earlier sexual arrest into the congressional record. Rustin’s work culminated in the march best known for King standing and proclaiming his dream of a nation in which the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners could eat together at the table of brotherhood.

That vision may now seem more distant than after Trump’s victory. There is additional irony, and even bitterness, in that it comes just eight years after President Barack Obama’s victory shattered barriers and changed our nation’s sense of what was possible.

Yet that gulf and the difficulties we undoubtedly confront as a national and global community make what we are doing more important than ever. It’s true that our task grew harder with the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate. But it’s also that those who believe that together we can make the world a fair, open and just place must struggle even harder to make it so.

As Baker would say, we cannot rest until it comes.

Jeff Kelly Lowenstein is a writer, investigative journalist and journalism professor. Earlier this year he was the Taco Kuiper visiting fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand.


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