Revolutionary patience is needed today. This term was coined by the German feminist liberation theologian Dorothee Soelle in the 1980s to describe a particular mindset. One that holds in tension a sense of “urgency which is consistent with the size of the problems and a resilience that meets setbacks and defeats with both the hope and determinism to remain in the struggle for the long haul.” It will not fall into despair no matter how bleak the situation looks.
Though this term is a new one for me, the concept is not. I grew up in a household where my mother always counseled us to remember, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hold on.” The basic message that we gleaned from her words was that there was never a reason to lose hope. She would say, “ tomorrow is another day,” no matter what dire circumstances were facing her.
The great theologian, Howard Thurman, cautioned that the greatest challenge to the activist is despair. Of course it is very easy to see the truth of that observation as I take into account the difficulty of working for racial healing and justice in the 21st century.
As a youngster these words did not mean that much to me, but now as a person who has lived seven decades, I can clearly see the wisdom in the philosophy that under-girded my mother's words. Along with having a better understanding of them, I am deeply grateful for the foundation that they helped lay for me as I have traveled all of these years as an advocate for social justice and liberation.
The great theologian Howard Thurman cautioned that the greatest challenge to the activist is despair. Of course it is very easy to see the truth of that observation as I take into account the difficulty of working for racial healing and justice in the 21st century. It is amazingly difficult to reflect upon how much work is yet to be done along these lines in this present moment where we find ourselves embracing so many challenges. There is so much rage that we can barely manage and there are too many unrelenting efforts to turn the wheel of justice back.
When my generation of social justice activists were working in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there was not any reason to believe that the gains that were made would be challenged on so many fronts in the 21st century. The biggest disappointment for many of us has been the attack on the Voting Rights Act. There was no reason to believe that such a basic right would come under attack in such a short time and that there would be so much new energy put into trying to make sure African Americans and other people of color would be discouraged from voting. This effort is the cause of great concern for many of us who believed that when the laws were changed, they would settle the issues of white supremacy when it came to voting and other similar rights that were supposedly ensured by the Constitution.
But, today finds us in this place where so many basic rights are having to be defended and where there is an amazing upsurge of violence being leveled toward African Americans and other people of color. Very questionable police killings of African Americans and Latinos, poison water not only in Flint, Michigan but for Native Americans, an election season that is making it possible for many to believe that anything is acceptable to say about folks who have been designated as “other.”
Yes, we need revolutionary patience. We need to remember to tie a knot in the end of the rope and hold on. We cannot despair. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of entertaining the possibility that a new day will not come. It must come.
We have to recommit ourselves to the work of peace and justice and continue to stand against every force that aims to distract us from the goals of justice and peace. Let's make revolutionary patience our watch word.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.