The work of mourning and struggle continue, and that work demands light

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar

“Mourning always follows a trauma . . . The work of mourning is not one kind of work among others. It is work itself, work in general.”
Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: the State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International

“I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night …

Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders

That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.”
Edward Hirsch, Gabriel: A Poem

We are in mourning today for the revelation of the chasm that has been there, been here, all along: white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, all held together by lies, hatred and violence. We are in mourning because the illusion of a just nation has been shown to be just that, an illusion. We are mourning because mourning always follows trauma, and we are each of us carrying bags of cement, not on our shoulders, but in our hearts and lungs and souls. And we are refusing to stay in bed. We are calling on the collective courage it takes to climb into the day.

So the news was bad yesterday, but the work continues, and that work demands light, and there is light, flickering, and not only that of millions of people already on the move because they have always been on the move. There is light coming from the very elections that have traumatized us.

Tammy Duckworth, an Asian American woman, was elected to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. Kamala Harris, who identifies as both black and Indian-American, was elected to represent California in the United States Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto, who is Latina, was elected to represent Nevada in the United States Senate. These three women of color will join Mazie Hirono, a Japanese American who represents Hawaii and was, until yesterday, the only woman of color in the Senate. When elected in 2006, Mazie Hirono was the first and only Asian-American woman senator and the first woman senator from Hawaii. Where there was one, now there are four.

And there’s more. The people of Washington’s 7th Congressional District elected Pramila Jayapal to the United States House of Representatives. Pramila Jayapal will be the first Indian-American will be the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. And in Minnesota, Ilhan Omar won a Minnesota House seat, making her the first Somali-American legislator in the history of the United States.

Yes, the news was bad, terrible even, yesterday, and dark clouds threaten intimate and structural violence, but they did not block out the sun. Candles continue to flicker, and good people continue to cast both rays of light and moving shadows. In the words of Sojourner Truth, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” And Mary Harris Jones roars in response, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!”

Pramila Jayapal

Pramila Jayapal


(Photo 1 Credit: Minnesota Public Radio) (Photo Credit 2: KUOW)