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What We HaveSeen

By: William J. McCarthy Jr., Executive Director January 7, 2021

We are challenged in our lives to be witnesses to history. For many of us, those moments sear themselves into our minds and spirits. This is one of them.

What happened in Washington was an act that most of us never imagined was possible. In the beating heart of the American government, which has seen decades of marches, this was not a spiraling protest. It was an attack on democracy – and on the dignity of voters with whom those gathered did not agree. It was a gutwrenching display of what might have been the first time that a riot was not the language of the unheard, but rather of the unhappy. Where officers in riot gear ringed the perimeter for Black Lives Matter demonstrations for racial justice, no such ring stood to protect democracy under threat.

We can be forgiven for our stunned stillness as we try to wrap our heads around what we have seen.

It can be hard to remember that not everything in our society is about politics. Some things are about principles and values, which transcend forms and models of government, guiding us all in the best ways to be voices for ourselves and our neighbors. It is principles and values that founded America, and it is those principles and values that must guide protest. It is those principles and values that must shape our work and our actions.

With them, we must stand for justice, especially for those who have been deliberately and systematically held back from the American Dream so that those with privilege could surge toward it. We are called – over and over, with challenge after challenge – to remember the heart in our humanity. That heart must triumph over impulse and insolence.

None of us as individuals can claim that we have always overcome the baser instincts that lie within us. That’s why we have to hold each other accountable, to serve one another humbly and in community. We need each other for this.

This country has come to its greatest grace when its people have worked together for the common good. Laying train tracks. Fording highways. Raising barns and hammering wood into homes. Laying stone and standing up community centers. Making meals to serve the hungry.

We are witnesses to history, and it would seem we have witnessed far too much. But we are also architects of the future. It is time to build.

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