What a devastating day for America. Instead of watching what would normally be the ceremonial congressional certification of the presidential election, the majority’s vote, we watched instead thousands of overwhelmingly white men and women storm the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from doing just that.

This day struck a frightening and devastating blow to the rule of law and to the dream of our democracy, and was indeed the pinnacle (let’s hope not just the beginning) of the horrible division of our country. And it raised again the specter of our unequal justice system.

Yes, eventually the National Guard was called out. Yes, the Capitol was cleared of the mob. Yes, a curfew was established, though not obeyed. But not until the rioters had broken into congressional chambers; until one of them sat at Nancy Pelosi’s desk, his feet up, a threatening note written; not until the confederate flag was brandished inside the building and those acting from their white privilege, born of white supremacy, were shouting “freedom” as they wreaked havoc on the building and terrorized those working inside.

Yet how quickly the National Guard was called to the peaceful protest at Lafayette Square, comprised of both Black and white people. As President Trump walked with his upside-down Bible to St. John’s, these people were being tear-gassed, having done nothing but stand together and ask for justice.

Questions abound. How could the Capitol police be so unprepared? Those of us far away were watching in fear and concern about what might happen, given the incitement during the previous weeks and rumors of huge numbers. And why did it take so long for the National Guard to be called? Why were so many of those who invaded the Capitol merely escorted out, free to walk off and later celebrate in their motel rooms? And what now? Will our justice system, so quick to assault Black protestors and carry them away in waiting busses, pursue the perpetrators of these heinous actions and sentence them with the full weight of the law?

Imagine if it had been a Black mob invading the Capitol. Imagine the outcry; imagine the force that would have been leveled to evict the Black participants. We don’t have to imagine; we’ve seen plenty of that already.

Fortunately, the new attorney-general understands that this unequal justice system is precisely why Black Lives Matter. If they had always mattered, there would be no need to say that they matter. But as is made clear over and over again, during protests, with the murder of Black men, with the rate of incarceration of Black men, Black lives have never mattered.

Yet Black people are no different than white people, except in the color of their skin and the difference in the way they are treated by white people. If there ever was a time (and there always has been that time), now surely is the time to call out the inequity of our justice system and insist that we take a good long hard look at its history, that we confront the legacy of hundreds of years of white supremacy and white entitlement.

Indeed, this event, shocking and terrifying as it was, was not unexpected. It has been brewing for years. It was organized and well-planned, the internet serving as the conduit of information and a meeting place.

And yet, on this same day, even as this white mob was ripping America apart, attacking the core of its democracy, something else equally important, though less expected, was happening: Black Americans were using the central tool of the people’s power in a democracy. Legislators and Black sororities and Black fraternities and Black grassroots organizers fanned out to talk and listen to their Black brothers and sisters and encourage them to vote.

And vote they did. These Black voters elected the first Black senator from Georgia. They elected a Jewish man, who will now be the youngest person serving in the Senate. Through their vote, the Black citizens pushed back, without violence or ugliness, against the efforts of gerrymandering, of voter suppression, the political tools of white supremacy, and showed us what true democracy should look like.

What an incredible irony! In a country dominated by the conviction of white supremacy and white privilege that have never made Black lives matter, it is Black people who stand up for all of us.

With this runoff election comes just a breath of hope, even though the damage done will not be undone for years and years to come. We now have the most diverse government we have seen, with leaders who will serve the people, all the people. Imagine how incredible our country could be if we tapped all the talent that has been pressed down, ignored, deemed less than. Some of that talent and power is in our government, but it also is in all of us.

White supremacy will not let this victory stand. The violent event of Jan. 6, incited by white leaders, illustrates just what happens when white privilege and white entitlement feel threatened. It is not enough merely to hope that with these actions, they went too far. It is not enough merely to say, “Enough is enough.” Now we must stand together in resistance strong enough to counter the rage and attacks that are sure to come, that are already coming, now that this violence has been unleashed. We must use our collective will and power to unite against those who would destroy our country.

Our power lies in using our vote to elect representatives at all levels who will serve the fundamental principles of our democracy and who stand for equality for all as democracy’s central tenet. Our power lies in holding our government officials accountable to all of us, in demanding that they work deliberately and constantly to change systems that have served some and not others, that they call upon the diverse, creative, and brilliant minds all around us to help in the project of recreating our democracy to truly embrace all.

And our power lies in our own actions, small and large, in defense of that equality, and our seeking every chance we get to listen, to learn, to share, to live in compassion and, through understanding and vision and action, rise out of the wreckage.

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