All over the country, people felt joy and relief on Saturday morning when they learned that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris had beaten President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Many other people felt the opposite: Rage and fear and distress.
One dynamic is fairly universal, however, and that is the experience of trauma. It is likely that we will look back at this time as an era of injury and wounding for great numbers of people in this country. And for some, the harm will be much more substantial than for others.
As we plummet deeper into the pandemic crisis, there will be unspeakable loss and distrust and perhaps accelerating social unrest.
As a psychologist, I have explored the experience of trauma and its confounding contradictions. How we each respond to trauma is one indicator of how we will or will not survive its debilitating effects.
People going through the exact same experience or event will respond differently, based on their own personal and collective histories, and what they have experienced generationally, through their families and their communities.
And that brings me to a point about the work of the Black community and communities of color in general, and their impact, in Georgia and all over the country.
Traditional political campaign activities fell off tremendously in the spring of 2020 because of people’s fears of covid exposure, and Democrats did not caucus and canvass in the way that they had for decades, because of the pandemic.
Though Republicans tended to continue their face-to-face campaigning, Democrats did not. Many isolated themselves and tried to protect their families, avoiding risky outings and limiting non-essential engagement with others.
The brutal killing of George Floyd changed that. Floyd’s murder mobilized the Black Lives Matter movement’s secret weapon: courage.
Enraged and shattered, people of color intensified their efforts and increasingly engaged in nonviolent direct action, and also activated an enormous grassroots election effort on behalf of Democrats. The Black population decided, consciously and unconsciously, that the work that was required at this very moment in history was essential, and that they were the ones who would be required to do it.
Why? Well, because no one else was going to do it.
Through the Black population’s extraordinary self-sacrifice and grassroots mobilization, they took to the streets, and the phones, and every community network they had, and got to work.
Their collective horror and frustration and fear fueled their labor. They did what they did because they had to. Their lives, and the futures of their children, depended on it.
Their efforts were a sacrifice because to be effective, they had to put their lives on the line. There was no end-around. Sacrifice seems to be another major ingredient in all life and death social uprisings.
The Black population mobilized the effort to tip the scales and bring about the Biden-Harris win. Just take a look at Detroit, Philadelphia and Georgia for a few examples of this dynamic.
In doing this work, they expanded their energy, became stronger, and consolidated collective power, because if a group survives trauma, there is the possibility that the individuals within the group will become more resilient.
The Black population conjured up courage to shape their efforts into a masterful prescription which was exactly the medicine that was required. They did this work on the shoulders of their own families and those whose sacrifices came before.
By doing the work in the middle of a pandemic, they also sacrificed their own individual safety for the collective good.
George Floyd’s daughter said her “daddy changed the world,” and we didn’t realize at the time how prescient her words were.
It was Black people who mobilized their grief into a winning formula.
And to them we must be grateful.
Diana Bray is a psychologist, mother of four, climate activist, mask-maker, beekeeper, and former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.
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