I’ve been reading a lot of Bonhoeffer lately.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who spoke out against Hitler, joined the Nazi resistance, and was ultimately executed by the Nazis for his activism in 1945. Bonhoeffer, who wrote, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
In the wake of the election, as we have seen hate crimes spike and white supremacists appointed to key positions in Trump’s administration, I have comforted and held and cried with friends and family members afraid for their lives and safety and future. Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, people of color. People who know the hatred making the headlines post-election has always been there—but now seeing it enacted from the highest levels. It’s a painful time—and it’s alright to grieve, to feel that pain, to be honest with it.
Those wheels of injustice are already crushing, and there is bandaging to be done. But, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, that alone is not enough.
It’s not enough to say, “Let’s see how things play out.” “Maybe he won’t do everything he promised.” “Give him a chance.”
For anyone who read Bonhoeffer, or watched Schindler’s List, or visited a Holocaust museum, and said to themselves, I would have done something. I would have been one of the good ones—we are faced with literal Nazis now. The justice struggles of the past are not dead. In those immortal words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
There is work to be done.
I think of Selma. I was there, in 2015, for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge; we sang the freedom songs. There were some there who longed to see it as a victory lap—a memory of how hard things were, and how far we’d come. But, of course, that’s not what it was. Because the chants of “Black Lives Matter” mixed in the with strains of “We Shall Overcome,” and the signs hoisted into the sky held names of black folks killed in this millennium. Selma isn’t past. As speaker after speaker told those of us who’d gathered there—“Selma is now.”
There is work to be done.
Even the colonial violence against indigenous peoples, ahistorically romanticized in our Thanksgiving holiday this week, is now. Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota—who are challenging an oil pipeline which endangers their water supply, destroys their sacred sites, and cuts across their treaty land—are being attacked with militarized force, including tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons in below-freezing weather.
There is work to be done.
And we must all do it. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reminded us this week that “the Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.” It made me think of my visit to the Museum with fellow State of Formation Contributing Scholars back in the spring, where we discussed parallels between the Jewish refugees of the genocidal Nazi regime and the current Syrian refugee crisis. After that visit, I wrote a piece for State of Formation, where I recalled:
But then we turned a corner, and there was a hallway filled with old photos of people protesting, holding signs in English:
Stop Hitler’s Bloody Pogroms on Jews & Catholics.
Gentile and Jew, Unite Against the Fascist Menace.
Americans Support Roosevelt’s Recall of Ambassador to Germany.
I’d never seen those photos before.
Our guide, Dr. Victoria Barnett, the Director of the Museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust, paused in front of the display. “There was outcry here in the United States,” she explained. “There were people who spoke out against Hitler, early on–who saw where he was going. But it wasn’t enough to change things.”
It wasn’t enough to change things.
What, then, will be enough?
It can feel hopeless, right? If those activists could not generate enough outrage early enough to stop the Nazis then, what can we do now, in the face of the white nationalism and racism and misogyny and xenophobia we are encountering?
Where do we find the hope to go on?
I think about visiting the West Bank in the summer of 2015. I was there with a human rights delegation from Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East. So many of us well-intentioned Unitarian Universalists, as we met with group after group of Palestinians doing human rights and advocacy and arts work, asked, “Where do you find hope?” Because hope—hope for peace, hope for a solution, hope for an end to militarized brutality—seemed so hard to find.
Finally, one young Palestinian woman answered us, “We are doing something. There is hope in that.”
A powerful truth—hope is in the doing.
Hope is in the Germans who smuggled Jews out of Nazi territory at the risk of their own deaths. Hope is in the the marchers at Selma who kept moving forward even as troopers beat them bloody with nightsticks. Hope is Black Lives Matter marches shutting down highways. Hope is in the camps at Standing Rock, where indigenous peoples from across the world have gathered to be in solidarity.
Hope is believing that “the moral arc of the universe is long,” and that we bend it toward justice. We, through our resistance, embody hope.
So, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for hope—hope in the doing, hope in resistance. Hope in driving a spoke into the wheels of injustice.
There is work to be done—let us do it.
Image: Public Domain, Pixabay.