Election Night Unity, Online Animosity

By Onleilove Alston 12-08-2008

Jamie: We took a puzzle system of trains for about an hour or so until we pulled to an unexpected stop on the tracks, just feet from the platform of 125th Street. We waited impatiently to find out why. Minutes passed, and finally at 11:13 p.m., the conductor came back and told us he would have us exit onto the end of the platform, just barely out of the tunnel. We ran to the bus and as we rode, we noticed the honking start; and then the cheering, and then the dancing. We suddenly became aware of what had just happened. The bus pulled to our stop and we shot out the doors like lightening, into the street, to be caught up in the rapture of the procession. This was a feeling I cannot even begin to describe. Do you understand the weight and magnitude of the fact that I, as a young 20-year-old white girl, was able to run ... literally RUN ... in JOY through the streets of Harlem ... in the midst of crowds and crowds of people that the systems of this world tell me I should fear?

Harlem was united.

Onleilove: As the results were announced, my friends and I hugged each other as Harlem erupted into cheers! It was like a parade! We cried and hugged, remembering ancestors past who sacrificed for this day, like my ancestors who toiled on America's largest plantations as slaves for the Alston family. I honestly never thought I would live to see the day an African-American man was elected as the president of the United States! My friends and I started to call out the names of ancestors and incidents in black history as we hugged.

Jamie: After Obama had given his speech that we all watched on the large screen together, the crowds began to disperse. I walked among and was embraced by a community of people unlike anything I have ever seen before. Every single color, background, orientation, race, and age began to celebrate. But hear me, people, when I say that it was not WHAT they were celebrating about that moved me to tears, but rather that they were celebrating TOGETHER. The fact that there was this BEAUTIFUL bond between all of these people and that FEAR was the last thought in their minds!

We walked back to Union Theological Seminary, and a small group of us began to enter into a time of worship. Together with my black brothers and sisters, we sang together and prayed together, giving God the glory for just for being God. The Holy Spirit was indeed there, and all the glory and praise was given to GOD-NOT a man. There were thanks, there were petitions, but mostly, there were prayers for UNITY, prayers for PEACE, more cries for reconciliation ... like the reconciliation we had just seen. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and as I was accepted and embraced into it, I found myself incredibly moved.

Onleilove: As we walked into Union, a classmate from Black Woman's Caucus ran up to us and invited us to pray. We all agreed to go into a classroom for an impromptu praise, worship, and prayer session. In this prayer group there were people from middle class and poor backgrounds, gay, straight, biracial, black, and white. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, people hailing from the West Coast, East Coast, Red States, Blue States, and everything in between sang praises to God and then offered prayer requests for our country, our schools, and our communities. We also prayed for a movement to begin with us. We all know that Obama is not the Messiah-JESUS is. We were all very aware of this. We also know nothing will change without us working to mobilize a movement that will fight for justice.

Jamie: As quickly as that hopeful feeling of restoration and unity came, it sadly vanished with that dreaded beast: Facebook status messages. Honestly, the things that people were saying and the attacks that they were throwing were reminiscent of a little child who has a tantrum when they don't get their way. It was truly heartbreaking.

Church, I expected more from you. My heart was deeply hurt, and I was extremely disappointed with the language that was being used and the interaction between people who, at the fundamental core of WHO THEY ARE, are brothers and sisters! Regardless of political party! I witnessed this and even received a good amount of it as well.

Onleilove: Though I was extremely happy to see unity and celebration, I am eager to see this translated into long-term political action. I am saddened that the church may be more fractured after this election. I am sorry to say that for twenty and thirty something Christians, Facebook and the internet in general has become a battleground. Christians feel comfortable making comments on social networking sites and blogs that if said face-to-face, would be categorized as gossip, slander, or malice. As Christians, we should speak with love regardless of the medium. Even if you did not support Obama, Romans 12:15 says, "to rejoice with those who are rejoicing." The majority of African-American Christians were rejoicing when Obama won. As Christians, instead of being critical of this, we must realize that this was a historic moment that some of our brothers and sisters in Christ like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King were martyred for.

Jamie: Election night, I saw for myself a glimpse of the kingdom of God, and I will never be the same. It was not because of any certain or specific man elected, but rather because the hearts of all kinds of different people who come from different places had decided to join together to dance and sing! I am not a black American. I will never truly understand their stories and struggles, but I know that now, at least, I understand so much more than I did before. I rejoice with them in this victory that they have sacrificed and even died for, for so many years.

Onleilove: We only saw a glimpse of what shalom and the kingdom could look like. And though no political party in this American empire will usher in the kingdom (in fact empires do the exact opposite), what we experienced on election night encouraged our spirits and gave us hope that "another world is possible." What would it look like if Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University students got to know their neighbors in Harlem's housing projects? What would it look like to be truly inclusive in our prayer circles? What would it look like to rejoice with those who are rejoicing? What could the kingdom look like if we truly wanted God's will to be done on earth every day as it is in heaven? This is not up to Obama or any other political leader, but it is up to us. Let's move from excitement and celebration to an organized movement in our communities, seminaries, churches, and society.

Onleilove Alston is a former Beatitudes Society Fellow at Sojourners and a current student at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University School of Social Work. She serves on the Servant Leadership Team of NY Faith & Justice and organizes with The Poverty Initiative.

Jamie Finch is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is passionate about setting captives free and is currently involved in developing a non-profit called Nomi Network that is committed to eradicating human trafficking. More than anything, she desires to seek the kingdom and bring the kingdom into the places where it is the hardest to imagine.

Onleilove and Jamie met at a New York Faith & Justice House Gathering hosted by Radical Living in Brooklyn, NY. This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Professor of Hebrew and Greek, Dr. Wyn Wright of Union Theological Seminary who passed away in 2007. She is in our "Great Cloud of Witnesses."

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