The Mob Won’t Stop the Beautiful Song of American Pluralism
I have a deal with my younger son. I won’t ride him too hard about zoom school (are those video games I hear when he’s supposed to be multiplying fractions?) if he will read and discuss a poem with me every day. In this way, we have worked our way through an impressive amount of Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Carlos Williams, and a little Walt Whitman, poets of American diversity, dignity, and possibility.
In this way, we have conversations about the beauty of a national song made up of many different voices. That American song can be heard in so many places. In grocery stores and in hospitals, where essential workers of all backgrounds risk their own health to keep us fed and to help us heal. On sports teams, where diverse athletes have had to adhere to rigid regimens to keep playing so that we can keep watching.
The song is heard most profoundly during elections – where we truly become ‘the American people’, engaging in the sacred act of electing the people who will govern and represent us. For centuries, “a people” meant those of the same race, ethnicity, or religion. In America, we are a people because we hold to the same principles, ideals outlined in our founding documents and enacted in the sacred acts of a common life together, the holiest of all being voting.
Several months ago, the American people did their best singing by voting in record numbers during a pandemic and electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
At the U.S. Capitol this week, a cathedral of the song of pluralism, the blood-curdling screams of a mob did their best to drown out that American song.
That there were white supremacist symbols on display, that some died in the melee, that they sought to disrupt a Constitutional procedure, that the police (who have often shown up in full body armor for largely-peaceful Black Lives Matter protests) were wholly unprepared for a long-planned event, that the conductor of this mob was the President of the United States – all of these things make January 6, 2021, a day that will live in infamy. And yet, later that night, the song continued. Nancy Pelosi brought the House back into session with the Prayer of St Francis, and the counting of votes – the song of the people – was heard.
So much depends on a red wheelbarrow, writes William Carlos Williams. It’s one of my favorite poems. My ten-year-old likes it because it’s simple, he thinks he got off easy the day we read that one. But I remind him that the poem is about not taking things for granted. Diversity, dignity, possibility – a variety of voices singing, and being heard. That is what it means to be in America. There’s been some distortion the past four years, and a brazen attempt at silencing in the last week, but as Whitman said, “I Hear America Singing”. That song is beautiful. We need to turn up the volume and join in.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.