When I first got the invitation to join a group of women who were going to Washington, D.C. to lobby, I wanted to say no.
For one thing, the bus would leave North Carolina at 4:00 AM. For another, the task seemed impossible; we sought to convince NC Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to support the nomination of Loretta Lynch for US Attorney General.
But event though I hesitated, I knew I would go. It was time to speak truth to power.
For those of you who don’t know, Ms. Lynch was born in Greensboro and grew up in Durham, NC. She earned both her B.A. and her legal degree from Harvard University. By all accounts, she is highly qualified for the position of US Attorney General. She currently serves as US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where she has led efforts to fight sex trafficking, police brutality, terrorism, and hate crimes in one of the toughest judicial districts in the country.
Support for her nomination is far-reaching and bipartisan — and includes the 42 organizations that make up the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights. If confirmed, Lynch will become the first African-American woman US Attorney General. I wanted to contribute to this historic moment, so I bought a bus ticket to Washington, D.C.
We started our (early!) morning with a prayer for safety on the road. Napping on the bus, I woke periodically to hear talk of lipstick, Obama, community organizing, grandchildren, and stories about how 90-year-old neighbors still drive. Every now and then the bus broke into song: “I have a feeling everything’s going to be alright.” We were psyched.
I was one of a handful of white women — most were African-American, many long-time activists with the NC NAACP. A minister or two. A retired nurse. A “pentagon survivor,” who worked in the building on 9/11. At least two breast cancer survivors. A journalist. A couple of high school students.
Our first stop was a press conference at the National Press Club. We filled the room. O’Linda Watkins Gillis, head of the women’s chapter of the NC NAACP, set the tone. The room erupted into cheers when she closed her remarks with, “When you strike our sister, you strike the women of North Carolina. And when you strike the women of North Carolina, you strike a rock!”
This group of activist women was not going to sit quietly and listen to speeches. By the time the third person spoke, there were more spontaneous freedom songs. “We shall not be moved,” we chanted. Not your typical D.C. press conference, but this group was feeling its power and had a mind of its own.
And then we went to the Senate Office Building, where we met with the Tillis and Burr in a packed office room. Another prayer. More strong words from our group. And finally someone asked the question on many of our minds: “Is this because she’s black? Is it because the president is black?”
To the 30 women in that office it was all too familiar. As more than one person said, Ms Lynch has played by the rules. And she had to run faster, jump higher, and work harder than anyone else to get where she is today.
Both Senators agreed that she is highly qualified. They said they do not support her because she could not tell them how she would do things differently than the current Attorney General. That did not hold water for our group.
You’ll have to decide for yourself why our Senators won’t support this nomination. You might agree with them or want to give them the benefit of the doubt. You might think it’s the glass ceiling or maybe it’s Jim Crow (or should we say Jane Crow?).
One thing was clear though: those two men see the world very differently than the 30 of us. They could not even begin to understand that our world views– and our life experiences– are 180 degrees different from theirs.
We did not convince them to change their positions. But we didn’t expect to. However, I feel sure that when the time comes to vote on this nomination, they will pause a long minute in discomfort before voting “nay.”
And I know that the 30 of us left stronger and more committed than ever to keep fighting.
That’s what speaking truth to power is about– standing up for your principles, even if you know you are going to lose. It can be just as important to make those you disagree with think about their stance– make them uncomfortable– while reinforcing your own commitment.
I was proud to be there. And the bus ride back felt like a victory tour, even if we didn’t technically “win.”