What I learned at Sister Giant

On November 9th, I, like many women across the country, woke to the election of Donald Trump, angry and grieving. How could my country have elected this man? A man who pursed a path to power by denigrating every minority. A man who began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. A man who flirted with the KKK, insulted all Muslims as terrorists, and mocked a disabled reporter. A man who exhausted us during his campaign with his vile sexist rants and bragged about sexual assault. Eventually I came to accept the election results — yes, this was our new President. But I could not bring myself to accept that this was the America I knew.

The truth was I had been complacent. I had somehow believed all I really needed to do was show up on election day and vote. I believed that “others” (perhaps more powerful, more active people) would be the ones to protect our democracy and values from tyrants like Donald Trump. It turns out there were no mythical “others” waiting to save us. If this election has taught me one thing it’s this: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

In the aftermath of the election, I turned to Marianne Williamson for her wisdom and voice of spiritual strength. She said this:

“The question is not, how did God let this happen? The question is, how did we let this happen? And what are we going to do about it now?”

Marianne organized Sister Giant, a conference in Washington D.C. from February 2–4, which I attended. The conference brought together a variety of thinkers to speak about the most important spiritual and political issues of our day. Bernie Sanders, the keynote speaker, urged all of us to get more engaged in politics. “Politics is not a spectator sport,” he said. And in these times of national tumult “despair is not an option.” We have to get out there and fight for what we believe in and make our voice heard.

Activists from Black Lives Matter as well as women’s rights advocates, immigrants’ rights advocates, environmental activists and experts on how to combat voter suppression shared their insights and provided recommendations for political action. Leading Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist thinkers also discussed the intersection of spirituality and politics. “We are facing a spiritual crisis today and trying to solve it through political means,” said Angel Kyodo Williams (a Buddhist author). “We need to stop leaving our spiritual self at the door and bring it to bear on the political process,” she commented.

It makes sense. If you think about it, decisions about whether to deny poor people healthcare, to protect refugee and immigrant families, to ensure that all children receive a quality education, or whether to go to war — these are all deeply moral and spiritual issues of our day. Our country is at a crossroads and we must decide who we are as a nation. As Marianne Williamson has pointed out, the left has gone astray by somehow gutting all of our social justice movements of spiritual meaning.

What I see on the left is an obsession with the politics of intellectual superiority and disgust. Donald Trump is a bad president because he is irrational and not intelligent enough. Donald Trump does not use clever words. His hair is ridiculous. We don’t like his family. No! Donald Trump is a bad president because he doesn’t represent the best part of us. He does not seek to raise this nation up to its greatest potential. These are the spiritual terms we need to be speaking in.

Marianne has reminded us that all of the great social justice movements of our history — from the abolitionists, to the suffragettes, to the civil rights activists — emerged from a spiritual base. Their cause was urgent and eventually triumphed because it was rooted in moral superiority. It was not merely logical to end slavery, or rational to give women the vote, or merely a smart thing to do to combat racial discrimination. Justice and morality demanded that we end slavery, that we give women the vote, and that we end segregation. All of these movements were based on a politics of love.

As our deeply divided nation seeks to find answers to some of the most pressing issues of our time — from healthcare, to education, to racial injustice, to immigration, and foreign policy — we on the left have a responsibility to use the full weight of our spiritual selves to advocate for a more just, compassionate, and kinder nation. Perhaps then our voices will be heard.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “You have very little morally persuasive power with people who can feel your underlining contempt.” How many times have liberals been accused of snobbery? Now is not the time for mockery and hate of others with different views. We must show why our causes are morally just. After attending Sister Giant, I came away thinking that this should be our duty on the left in whatever political action we take: when we use our voices, and our conservative brothers and sisters around the nation hear us, let us speak with love and compassion. And in the discussion of politics, let us not leave our spiritual selves at the door.