At this year’s winter solstice, the darkness seems worse, deeper, more threatening. The Seasonal Affective Disorder, in which lack of light brings on depression, can’t hold a candle to this year’s Systemic American Dysfunction.
Light marks solstice, from pagan fires on British hilltops to Scandinavian Yule logs to Hanukkah candles and Christmas trees. Like lighting candles against the long winter night, I’m offering stories of hope to shine through the post-election darkness. Here are a few of those stories:
- At Sacred Stone Camp and Oceti Sakowin, the Lakota/Nakota/Dakota nations lead the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. They stand for treaty rights, for water protection, for the land, for the children and the generations to come. The light of hope comes from sacred fires, sacred people, standing up to power. They won a victory when the Army Corps of Engineers decided to stop the pipeline for an environmental impact statement.
- A parallel victory for land and waters came this week, as the federal government refused to renew Twin Metals mining leases near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The Forest Service also said it would try to ban mining in 234,000 acres of the Superior Forest. Polymet’s mining proposal is still on the table. So is Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement project – but about 150 people showed up to oppose Enbridge at a public meeting December 13.
- In the Twin Cities this week, organizing defeated plans for a bigger, consolidated Hennepin-Ramsey juvenile jail. After months of solid organizing and pressure, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges shifted positions and now supports the $15 minimum wage. And in response to threats against immigrants from the president-elect and his minions, Twin Cities churches and Mary’s Catholic Church in Worthington declared sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.
We need to hold up the work of organizing as a light in the darkness. We need to let our victories shine brightly to inspire greater solidarity, more organizing, and surer hope.
We move forward one step at a time, one victory or loss at a time. Winning one victory does not end the struggle. We still go on fighting, one step after another, one battle after another.
Suffering one loss does not end the struggle. Losing an election is not losing the country. The losses we suffered, the losses our country and our state suffered in November are terrible, but they are not irreversible. We must still go on fighting, one step after another, one battle after another.
About 150 years ago, William Ernest Henley, 12 years old and recovering from tubercular arthritis and the amputation of one leg, wrote:
Out of the night that that covers me,
black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
for my unconquerable soul.
The unconquerable souls of people standing up to power continue to move forward, continue to shine brightly through dark winter nights.
The water protectors, soaked and frozen by water cannons in the freezing North Dakota winter, kept moving forward, kept holding up the light. They walked in the footsteps of 25-year-old civil rights activist John Lewis, beaten unconscious by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. John Lewis, now U.S. Representative John Lewis, kept on moving forward, still keeps on, still holds up the light.
Standing up and standing together, we have the power to win. We have strength to share with one another and keep moving forward. We have the power to change the politics, the policies, the direction of this country.
A spiritual that became an anthem of the civil rights movement tells us to keep our eyes on the prize and hold on. Reverend William Barber, the leader of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, preached after the election:
“Those songs are not entertainment. They are songs of preparation for a fight. You only sing those songs if you are willing to stand up and challenge injustice. As you’re fighting, even when it’s dusty and dark and sometimes despairing, you keep your eyes on the prize and hold on.”
We need to hold onto hope, hold onto belief that together we can shift the balance of power, together we can make a difference, together we can win our way back to a more equal, more just, more merciful country.
So in this dark night of winter solstice, in this dark night of the soul, in this dark night of our country, hold onto the light. Hold up the light to one another. And keep moving forward.