A horrific American epiphany – a tragic revealing that gave us a mirror into ourselves as a nation – took place on the Christian Feast of Epiphany (January 6).
What was at stake that day? At the very least, the peaceful transfer of power – a gift the United States gave to the world for more than 200 years.
But more than that, the fundamental ideas of the “Great American Experiment” in democracy were at stake – one person, one vote. Representative democracy. Equality. Whether or not we plan to fully actualize those ideals and protect them.
It was a watershed moment in American history. That day and its aftermath will forever frame the patriotism and loyalty, or lack thereof, to the U.S. Constitution of every officeholder and every American.
In days since the insurrection, I’ve warned plenty about calls for unity that are merely a plea for collective denial in the face of danger and conflict we fear we cannot navigate.
I’ve warned of false equivalencies masquerading as balance or fairness, and I searched for something to hold onto. In fact, I wrote:
“There is another story line that is new – true and worthy of consideration. There are some new places of unity that have lit up brightly, if we notice. Don’t dismiss – think a minute.
“I have found a new, authentic place of unity with people like Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney and people like them. For all the policy differences I have with them, I know firmly, deeply now and without a doubt they and I – are a WE.
“WE share a deep conviction about defending the United States Constitution. WE are on the same side, building the barricades and holding the line against violent insurrectionists and white supremacist takeover of our government.
“Perhaps it took all-out war on our government for this unity to be revealed – perhaps – for us to discover it had to be defended this way.”
My heavy heart needed a hopeful lift, and when I wrote those words, I felt one. I am grateful that a few people found some courage and took a stand despite intense party pressure.
But I have to be honest. My own words were more aspirational than actual. I said more than I honestly knew.
If tragic events have pushed us into revelation, let’s just keep on going.
Regardless of the actions of senators and representatives and of the impeachment process, each one of us is responsible as a citizen for what we do next.
What did the insurrection reveal? Have we been transformed by the insurrection?
Let’s be honest – we all imagine that we would have been the brave soldiers of the American Revolution pursuing freedom, that we would have been part of the Freedom Rides if we were old enough, or that we would have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hindsight righteousness feels good.
In contrast, foresight, discernment, courage and the pursuit of justice and democracy are all very hard. We have to act in real time – before time and history frame the “right side” for us.
The insurrection is not over.
It is now being carried out in 35 state capitols around the country – and it is not on the front steps. No shattered glass. No armed mob in QAnon t-shirts.
There are people in suits – men mostly, with papers in their hands and committee meetings and hearings.
In Georgia alone, 48 pages of legislation have been filed to “fix” an election system that was repeatedly proven by recount, audit and review not to be broken.
We know the insurrection was preceded by mass disinformation, and it was agitated into being by the “Big Lie.”
It is critical that white people understand what the “Big Lie” actually is.
I’ll make no assumptions. The world is too dangerous for assumptions.
The “Big Lie” is the next incarnation in the centuries-old effort to deny people of color access to democracy.
Slavery and the Three-fifths Compromise were the first tools. Then Jim Crow, lynching, intimidation, murder and incarceration designed specifically to capture people of color and permanently delete their right to vote.
The “Big Lie” is what white supremacy looks like in 2020. Persistent and unfounded claims, raised with no evidence, that there was “massive voter fraud in urban areas.”
Read that clearly for what it says: Black people came out to vote. We don’t like it. Let’s just not count it.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.
An Alabama native and mother of three sons, Hiley has a BA in history, a Master of Divinity, and is a former Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Fellow. She lives near Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Todd Heifner.