I have been seeing a lot of a couple of three-word slogans: “Not my president!” and “Get over it!” I think I understand both, but I reject both, and a third to which I think they reduce, and choose to affirm a fourth.
1. The first is Not my president! I cannot say “My president!” with the enthusiasm of those who somehow find that his character traits or his aims and competencies are so good and admirable that it was right to select and affirm him as our national representative and leader, so I guess in a sense I have in multiple ways said and am still saying “not my president,” but I do not intend to use these words exact words in this exact order, and I certainly will not be reduced to chanting them as a slogan unless perhaps down the road my darkest fears are realized. As a slogan, “Not my president!” seems to me to be saying “I reject this person and I reject and curse you who supported him,” and I will not say that. He is now our president, and we must “deal with it”—deal with him—together, accepting corporate responsibility for his election, respecting his office, and as for the ways in which he carries it out affirming what we can affirm, rejecting what we must reject, and trying in all things, with love, to persuade each other. For that reason I cannot and will not join the chants of “Not my president!”
2. But neither will I Get over it! which is the second phrase I have been seeing and hearing a lot. I have grave and well-grounded concerns, and I am certainly not about to just drop them. There are already things to regret, and there is reason to fear worse things to come, and I intend to be vigilant. While I will certainly try to listen I will also at times be vocal. Those who say “Get over it!” seem to me to be saying, “We won, you lost, shut up!” I hear them saying: “I do not care about your concerns, and I do not care about anyone’s fears.” But no one should be told to just shut up, and if you are my friend you will believe in my integrity and goodwill, as I believe in yours, and you will try to understand what is bothering me, just as I will try to understand what is motivating you. We owe each other some explaining, and we owe it to each other to listen. Again: we must deal with each other, affirming what we can and trying, with love, to understand and persuade where we cannot affirm.
3. Both “Not my president!” and “Get over it!” seem to me similar in that both reduce easily to a third three-word slogan: Go to hell! This, quite frankly, is what I hear when I hear the first two slogans. I hear rebuke and rejection and intent to shut down conversation. I hear anger expressed in disrespect. Even if the anger is sometimes understandable this is precisely what we cannot and must not say to each other—not until we are ready to say conclusively that all is lost. Any awareness of history tells us that such moments do sometimes come, but I hope and pray that we have not arrived and will never arrive at such a moment.
4. But not wishing to be left without a slogan, I would like to propose another. Whenever I hear either of those first two slogans, which I must reject, they will for me call to mind this alternative three-word mantra: We shall overcome! I embrace this slogan not as a battle cry for one side against another but as a promise to stay engaged for the common good of all. I expect and hope that my friends of all political persuasions will make this promise. I embrace it not as a prediction but as a statement of firm resolve, and as a prayer. This phrase has a history among us. It has a history for me. I first heard it, I will admit, as a partisan threat, definitely liberal and possibly communist-inspired. Such was the matrix in which I was born and grew up. But I came to see that those who embraced and embodied and proclaimed it—whether on the national stage, like Martin Luther King, or in other locales that came to have national significance, like John Perkins, or in my little home town in Virginia, like one Bernard Epps of whom most of you have never heard and will never hear but who made a deep and lasting impression on some whom it was very hard to reach—were patiently and not without cost to themselves holding out to many of us an invitation to enter into a long journey of coming to see ourselves and others very differently than we were at that moment capable of seeing either. The promised land that they sought has in some ways come much closer, but in other ways the terrain has shifted unexpectedly and disconcertingly. Many more have glimpsed the promised land, but it seems there is more than one account of what it looks like. One’s utopia is another’s dystopia, and it is not at all clear how these accounts, these very different lands of promise, can be resolved into one. All the more reason to reaffirm: We shall overcome.
If you can watch and hear this linked performance today without tears, you are in a very different place today than I. But some day we will come together. We shall overcome.