606 contributor Ben Wideman is the campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State.
Since the 2016 election, a small group of people have gathered at Penn State’s Allen Street Gates on Monday afternoons to “stand for justice,” holding signs and engaging in conversations about what they care about and their hopes for change in the political direction of our country. Sometimes this group has been large – more than 100 people showed during some weeks in the immediate months after the election, but mostly the crowd has been small. A small group of regulars has participated in almost every week since the vigil began, and occasionally I join them as a symbol of my own longing for more justice in our country and in our world.
Recently I brought up this pending election year. There were general concerns mixed with excitement about the possibility of change, but also the reality that we might see another election that affirms the current administration and their practices.
I asked if people would still show up on Mondays at the gates, and if it mattered who won the election. Almost immediately each person who had heard my question looked exhausted as the reality of what I was asking sunk in.
On the one hand, if the same administration was elected, would it require another four years of showing up and raising awareness about the need for justice? What would that mean for the past four years of standing up for justice… would it all have been for nothing? One older individual named the fatigue we were all experiencing in that moment, saying right away, “I’m too old and tired for that kind of future.”
On the other hand, could any future Presidential administration promise an injustice-free country or world? Perhaps especially for more progressive folks, showing up even in the wake of a new President, reminds our community that we still care about justice, and that it isn’t a problem that disappears depending on which party holds more power.
In fact, when the administration we affirm with our individual votes ends up in power, we have a tendency to be less critical of their actions and behaviors in general. I know I am less likely to speak out against injustice if it comes from the party I voted for. President Obama’s willingness to deport more people than any previous President is something that his supporters rarely brought up, even as they now ridicule this current administration for doing the same. Likewise, supporters of our current deportation efforts rarely look back and praise President Obama for the work he did in this area during his time.
I remember bumping into an African American student the day after the 2016 election. I was lamenting the state of our country when this student stopped me and reminded me that it is a helpful reminder of the work we have to do. That election helped pull back the curtain to the many areas that justice-minded people had become lackadaisical. It reminded us that anger, hatred, racism, misogyny, nationalism, toxic capitalism, and many more things were still alive and well in this land.
As we find ourselves on the dawn of 2020, I wonder how we can be preparing ourselves to move forward, regardless of who wins this next election. I wonder how we can be bracing ourselves for whatever good or bad comes out of this season, and remember that there will still be justice work to be done, regardless of who wins at the end of the day.