“If you don’t speak out ain’t nobody going to speak out for you.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
We celebrated the 100th birthday of Mother Fannie Lou Hamer this week. And we are still experiencing what she taught us. Whether or not elected officials listen to us, we must continue to give voice to our rage.
One integral role of a public official is to represent the people who placed them in their position. After hearing from Mayor Lyda Krewson at the “From Protest to Policy” panel, we are reminded of the Kingly duties of our leaders as laid out in scripture. A growing concern expressed by the people of St. Louis is the invisibility of their mayor. When she does hold a press conference or put out a statement, many of us feel utterly unaccounted for. Either Mayor Krewson does not understand her role as a listener and voice of the people, or worse, she is willfully separating herself from us and our experiences.
Tonight we heard as Lyda either misunderstood her role as a voice or displayed the natural implications of one who does not care to be near to the people – or certain types of people. We felt the sting as we voiced agonizing pain and frustration only to be met by the reply, “I appreciate your enthusiasm.” A few minutes later, when we stood up to demand that Lyda remove the interim police chief, she said “I prefer not to have this private conversation here.” Not only were we told that our clear emotional pain is misinterpreted as excitement, we were told not to discuss public matters in public, but in the misrepresentative private board rooms of our city. Public safety is not a private matter. Chief O’Toole refuses to reprimand the officers under his command who mock us publicly. Lyda referenced the ongoing process to place a new chief in a more permanent position. In this we hear the continuing rhetoric of “wait and see”. But we are suffering now. Injustice is happening now. The interim police chief is endorsing street terrorism now. We cannot trust in public justice when the long arc of justice is distorted behind closed doors and we are told to wait.
Our taking to the streets is not merely for public spectacle as such but to call witness to our Godly grief over unjust systems and arrogant evil which results in loss of life. This is not enthusiasm, Mayor Krewson. This is righteous rage. We will not be silent or go unheard, no matter how misrepresented.
One of the most beautiful refrains of our faith is “God knows us and loves us.” How good it is to know that we are known. How painful it is to be misnamed and unaccounted for. This is why we tremble at the haunting echoes of Jesus’ words, “I never knew you.”
In the moments when our city is most in need of hearing truth and seeing vulnerability from a mayor who has been absent by choice, she assumes that she knows exactly what we are feeling and what we must do. The truth is that she is unacquainted with our grief, that she does not desire to remain present through the dissonance of our rage and determination to see change. Anyone who cannot withstand the heat of transformation is not equipped to lead in it.
Dear friends and family in the struggle, our pain is not unseen. God both sees our suffering and names it correctly. We trust in the God who not only embraced the flames of transformation but is Himself the fires of change. “The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them” the psalmist proclaims. We will not allow our cries and the cries of our neighbors to go unheard. So we will continue to march and shout out “stop killing us” because it is the Lord who hears. And we pray He breaks through to our mayor, so that she too may rise up to the calling of her office.
Until that day, remember that there is work to do in the waiting. Your seemingly invisible frustration is not in vain. As a human being, made in the image of God and indwelled with the Holy Spirit, you have immense power. When the people of Corinth acted as if they were powerless to enact justice, Paul reminds them “do you not know that you will judge angels?.” And we hold fast to this challenge from the prophet Isaiah “do you not know, have you not heard?”
We will not relinquish our authority simply because those in power can not see.