All My life
September 1, 2020
Good morning. I have been reflecting about why I have been so drawn to songs of protest all my life. Yes, they do comprise my Sunday morning workout playlist to give me that kick in the ass to face the week’s challenges, but these past weeks have found my bringing these songs up more frequently out of anger and frustration.
This morning, my thoughts converge on the concept of power — the good, bad, and the ugly. I witnessed from my perspective the greatest display of the intoxication and arrogance of power, with the guest inhabitants of the White House using the grounds of the people’s house to further shun responsibility and accountability to the American people, concerned primarily with their own self-interest and that of the corporate elite.
I also am deeply troubled by the direction in which public processes seemingly are moving at all levels of government that has decreased public accessibility, transparency, and responsiveness purportedly because of measures to ensure health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic— a time when the public’s reliance on government is even more critical.
I reflect on the mighty power of Nature as she protests the ecosystem imbalances and disruptions with wildfires as we have never known, plagues we thought were afflictions of the past, and other devastating events due to our lack of care for our planet. Yes, destruction is power too, yet I hold out hope that this may guide us to reach into our never-ending well of personal power to become stronger, more resilient, and more committed to do our part to save our planet.
I am grimly aware of the elusiveness of power as many celebrated Women’s Equality Day to commemorate the 1920 adoption of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on the basis of sex — while at the same time, understanding the struggle for this right carried its own chapters of racism and fighting today to restore affirmative action in California so gender and race may be taken into account to increase opportunities.
I first learned about Nina Simone from a couple in the late 1960s who lived in the flat upstairs from our family. I remember as if it were yesterday, Nina’s elegant power as I listened to her bold voice and her strong hands on the piano unapologetically calling out the slow response to the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, MS and the killing of four Black children in the Birmingham, AL church in her ‘Mississippi Goddam.” Nina’s was a foundational voice of protest known around the world, and I believe many who came after her to elevate their own voices of protest were inspired by her singing truths and also offering some light and hope (that she can demand the gift of equality now that everyone knows about Mississippi, goddam).
I am moved by the voices of protest that emerged this past week. The NBA players and professional athletes of the WNBA, MLB, and MLS getting into good trouble with their boycotts stood tall with the solidarity of their teammates, coaches, and league executives in declaring after the Jacob Blake shooting that being Black is not a movement … it is who they are. Recognizing their star power accords them unique opportunities, I am over the moon with plans to use sports arenas as voting centers, to support organizations that will protect the vote and continue the fight against racism, and to inspire youth activism.
The death of young actor Chadwick Boseman commanded attention to the gifts of this amazing actor whose activism in portraying Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and T’Challa/Black Panther brought more knowledge and understanding of the Black American experience and spirit than history books could ever do — shedding light on the tough trials, hard-fought triumphs, and room for hope and optimism. His spoken words will continue to inspire, whether the Howard University graduates whom he addressed or the millions looking for visionary leadership: “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”
Up on today’s workout playlist: “Nina Cried Power” by Hozier featuring Mavis Staples. If you do not know it, I find it one of the most heartfelt anthems honoring so many protest artists who cried power with messages for change. And of course, Mavis Staples carries the most profound lyrics: “And I could cry power, power has been cried by those stronger than me, straight into the face that tells you, to rattle your chains if you love being free.”
For many, myself included at times, hope and optimism are under trial. Yet, as I sit this morning grateful for my solitude and quietude that helps me to make some sense of all that we are confronting today, I reflect upon what power means to me. I am clear about the “power” that I derive when serving as a public official to direct or influence. For me, true power resides in the deep well within each of us — our personal freedom to act, informed by our truths and values. While this may be limited for some, it still remains our personal, individual power that as true power, no one can take away — no one can subordinate.
During my public service, I work hard to align true power, personal power with political power. It is tough work; it is quiet, intentional work; and it is rewarding work. Yet at the same time I continue to do this work, I am every bit as loud as anyone to challenge all of us to use our voices. Vote. Cry power. And if tears represent your voice, remember that vulnerability is a sign of strength. Vote. Cry power.