“I’m not here to occupy space; I’m here to make it” ~ Representative Ayanna Pressley

Dear President Trump,

Because I’m 99% sure you missed it, I’ll remind you that yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birthday (he would have been 91). In honor of him and the day, there was an MLK celebration at the VA yesterday and since some meetings were cancelled I was able to attend. The twin themes of the celebration were exploring how the VA’s central values (our I CARE values ~ Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence) map onto MLK’s Dream and whether his Dream has been realized, and if not, what do we need to do to move closer to it coming true.

The main thing I want to highlight is the short film we watched about how MLK went off script when he gave his I Have A Dream speech on the Washington Mall in 1963. Several people who were there that day talked about how King started out using prepared notes and in the clips from that part of the speech he looked and sounded pretty stiff and uncomfortable. In the film they then play a clip of Mahalia Jackson, who was up on the stage with him, shouting to him something like “Tell them about the dream, Martin, tell them about the dream!” You can see the tension melt away as he stands up a little taller before launching into tell them (and us) about his Dream that one day all people will be treated equally and will be judged by the quality of their character and not by the color of their skin. The speech is obviously fantastic, but it feels incredibly important to know that it likely wouldn’t have happened without Ms. Jackson’s urging, without her sense that he needed to not miss that moment by sticking to the script, that he should trust himself to improvise and speak from his heart. I love what she modeled (because she took a big risk there, too) and I love that he listened and went for it.

During the remainder of the VA program the conversation circled around whether the Dream has been realized. The consensus was that although we aren’t there yet, quite a lot of progress towards it has been made. But frankly, it would be just as easy to frame it the other way, that although a lot progress has been made, a lot of work remains before the Dream is fully realized. From the tone and tenor of the conversation, it really felt like a toss-up as to which side to emphasize, and this seems right. On the one hand, we have you, our POTUS, denigrating and endangering people of color most every chance you get, and on the other hand, three of the House Impeachment Managers are people of color.

I am not alone in thinking that your odious behavior represents the final death throes of white supremacy (and your horrible treatment of women is similarly a thrash as the patriarchy tries to eek out a little more time) so even though you’ve managed to tap and exploit racism in lizard portion of many Americans’ brains, you and your kind will not have the final say. Indeed, watching the beautiful mix of women and men, and Black, White, and Latinx Impeachment Managers solemnly file into the Senate Chambers to clean your clock is a sure sign that the Dream is alive and well and we are moving the goalposts out further and further towards it.

Before I close, I want to bring in another wonderful example of how some of us are living into the Dream ~ today Representative Ayanna Pressley released her moving coming out statement announcing that she is bald from alopecia. The whole thing is amazing but I want to lift up one line in particular – she said:

“I’m not here to occupy space; I’m here to make it.”

Amen.

May we be safe to occupy space and to make it.
May we be willing to keep working in service of the Dream.
May we stay healthy and strong as we weather your all’s death throes.
May we cradle peace and nonviolence in our hearts.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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