You Cannot Turn Your Back

“You can turn your back on me, but you cannot turn your back upon the idea of justice. You can turn your back now and you can keep the club in your hand, but you cannot beat down justice… And we will register to vote, because as citizens of these United States we have the right to do it.”

Rev. C.T. Vivian

A Civil Rights organizer, Rev. Vivian, died a little more than a week ago and I regret that I had only a faint sense of who he was before the eulogies started to come out. While John Lewis’ great story was familiar to me, from the three-part graphic novel March to his beautiful interview with Krista Tippett on OnBeing, Rev. Vivian’s story is equally compelling and profoundly inspiring.

In fits and starts this week I’ve been listening to his oral history at the Library of Congress, in which he talks about the drive for voter rights, his fundamental conviction that our ability to participate in the democratic process is a movement towards our collective liberation, and his consistent call to continuing this work, knowing that so much remains undone. It is a powerful testimony to work that was grounded deeply in love and in justice, to a life lived with purpose and deep relationships. Rev. Jesse Jackson is right when he proclaims of Vivian, “He never stopped dreaming. He never stopped fighting. We are better because he came this way.”

Vivian’s words above, preached on the steps of the courthouse in Selma, Alabama while being barred from access by police (and being sucker-punched by the Sheriff), are so prescient and relevant still. As we struggle with ‘secret police’ in the streets of Portland arresting, detaining and violating the rights of citizens, and a continuing campaign to disenfranchise voters nationwide, it becomes clearer and clearer that the struggle carries on, has carried on while many of us might have thought this battle over.

Foundational principles of our Unitarian Universalist faith call us into this struggle. Our August share-the-plate collection will support voter rights, and UU the Vote actions are coming alive in congregations all across the country, including many in our region. How else might we respond? How might we move past our weariness in this moment to renew the struggle? How might we keep dreaming, keep fighting, making the world better because we came this way? 

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