On a packed, New-York-bound charter bus returning from the first D.C. Women’s March, my son Jack and I shared birthday cake and conversation with people we’d just met. It was January 21, 2017, Jack’s nineteenth birthday.
Despite it being the official start of the Trump presidency, the Women’s March had been exhilarating. No one in my family had ever been in that big a crowd for that long a time with no negative repercussions, an instructive, unforgettable experience.
The energy of the day had been “let’s honor and express our anger, assert our strength as a collective, focus it on the future, and begin to formulate our plan to get out of this, all without violence.” In part because the march was so successful, multicultural, and massive, a much-needed feeling of hope hung in the air. We’d pulled off the unlikely, some would say impossible. It energized me, spiritually.
On the bus, thinking about that spiritual aspect, I asserted my belief that a person of faith was needed on the 2020 ticket, someone who could bring to the Democrats a genuine moral dimension, someone with the righteous gravitas of MLK.
We were – and are – agreed the Trump presidency is, among other things, an assault on civil rights. I posited that a new movement was needed, as in the Sixties, to galvanize opposition, and it required a spiritual dimension, a brazen acknowledging of ineffable energies, of soul. MLK had led the way back then. You cannot divorce the power of the pulpit from the efficacy of the civil-rights movement. He was Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after all. He spoke to a collective moral core, unabashedly used the language of Scripture.
This spiritually conversant 2020 candidate I spoke of would similarly tap into the hearts and voting minds of millions of secular Americans who proclaim no religious affiliation but who nevertheless hunger for a language of hope, of transcendence; people whose devotional energy has been captured by pop culture, by memes, by tribalism, by technology. I wager most don’t even know how parched and starving they are.
The folks we were talking to on the bus, fellow ardent Democrats of action, took umbrage. They kept to the common notion that, due to legit and ongoing evils perpetuated by organized religion, the well is poisoned, and the further we stay away from spirit talk, the better. Secular humanism all the way. Science and law, not mumbo-jumbo about myths and such. The right can have the evangelicals, good for them.
It was not the first time I’d had this conversation with fellow lefties. But as ever, I think they’re wrong. They’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And it’s a big baby.
To be clear, I proclaim allegiance to no established religion. I am an agnostic (Latin for “I don’t know”) though I actually prefer the term “possibilian.” I have been humbled by phenomena our science cannot explain. Perhaps because I know best the power of song, which is linked closely to worship, I have experienced a collective emboldened in a positive way, motivated to their higher selves, connected to one another across space and time by the liturgy of words and music. I believe in that.
When certain people of faith in the political world speak their truths – like reverend William Barber II and especially vice presidential hopeful Stacey Abrams – I feel enriched, motivated, and hopeful. Do some of their espoused beliefs in what happened on the Plains of Abraham millennia ago strike me as impossible? Yes. But when I look at their works, take their words to heart, and listen to their plans to tap into an American soul just waiting for the right nurturance to bloom, and act, I believe them.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.