In the Bible, in the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul issues this admonition:
“Let us not grow weary in well-doing.”
Talk about things that are easier said than done. For some of us, after all, this is a weary season, a season of exhausted hope and worn expectation that would have seemed impossible on that victorious November night 14 years ago when a Black senator, just elected president of the United States, stood on a stage in Chicago’s Grant Park and proclaimed, “Change has come to America.”
He would be proven right, though in a way none of us could have predicted. America changed, all right. Prodded by the stark racial fears of the political right, our politics became first shrill, then incoherent, then, one year ago this month, violent. They also became more exclusionary. Emboldened by a Supreme Court ruling that tore the heart from the Voting Rights Act, the right passed new Jim Crow laws designed to make voting more difficult for people of color.
And so we come to this remarkable point where bills to repair the Voting Rights Act and protect access to the ballot face certain defeat this week in the Senate. Even more galling, the margin of that defeat is provided by two Democrats under the ridiculous reasoning that the Republicans — the ones who oppose voting rights — must sign off on any legislation that seeks to defend those rights.
“Let us not grow weary?” How can we not?
That emotional exhaustion stems less from the fact that we have to fight this battle, than from the fact we have to fight it again, that a fundamental right vindicated in blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 57 years ago is once more in peril. It brings home a sobering realization: There will be no finish line here, no point at which you can consider the victory safely won. We will always be fighting because we will always be under attack.
One is reminded of what the late Lerone Bennett Jr. said a few months after the Black senator proclaimed change, as others were musing about the idea of some final victory over racism. “I’m an old cat,” observed the then-80-year-old historian. “I was here that great Monday when the Supreme Court ordered integration. I was here when Lyndon Johnson said, ‘We shall overcome’ on primetime TV. People said it was over. We were wrong. It wasn’t over then, it wasn’t over in 1965, it wasn’t over when the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed ... and it’s not over now.”
It has turned out to be a staggeringly prescient observation. Staggeringly painful, too.
With apologies to Paul, sometimes you can’t help but grow weary. What defines us is what happens after we do, whether we press on anyhow or throw up our hands and accept defeat. It is worth noting that that isn’t even a question for the forces of intolerance. They never have to be begged or bullied to go to the polls as the rest of us so often must. The point being that even — no, especially — through our weariness and disappointment, we have to vote.
And fight. Indeed, now would be an excellent time for a renewed campaign of civil disobedience and economic withdrawal targeting those who support the abridgment of this most fundamental right.
Most of all, we must make peace with the idea that we wage a war that can never be fully and finally won. It might help to hold onto the kernel of hope that lives within that bitter truth. Every victory can be overturned, yes.
That means every defeat can, too.
(Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)