It’s in the blood: why our need to protest has a biological basis.
I joined over 6000 people at the rally and march for voter rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, yesterday. This was organized by the NC NAACP to coincide with the opening of the court case against the 2013 voter law that fundamentally changed the way people vote in this state and arguably was structured to discourage people of color, people of low socio-economic means, and people who tend to vote for progressives from voting. This being the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, there were multiple references to the March in Selma that prompted the nation to look hard at unjust voting restrictions. The current voting laws in North Carolina would not have passed muster if they had been examined under the VRA if this law had not been gutted by a recent Supreme Court decision.
The president of the NC state conference of the NAACP, Rev. Dr. William Barber II was the keynote speaker. Drawing from the language of the black church and in remembrance of people who died in the Civil Rights movement and most recently in Charleston, he used the image of blood. Our rights to vote were paid for with the blood of martyrs in the cause of justice and democracy. Rev. Barber said that any effort to suppress the ability of the people vote can be called a sin, and it was the obligation of people of faith to condemn it as such.
For me, talking about the “power of the blood” speaks also about the living continuity of individuals who strive for including all people in our sphere of just relations and equality. The need for just relations is a biological need. We need food, we need shelter, and we need a sense of well-being, which are needs that cannot be fulfilled while people are systemically oppressed. But it goes even to a deeper level. We are embedded in a biological continuum of being, an organic expanse of engagement so that I cannot tell where you begin and I end. The statement, “we are one as a people” is no mere metaphor. It is true in a physical sense through the air we breath and the biology we exchange and share. It could very well be that this biological expanse of engagement is our window into an experience of God or whatever you feel transcends the human experience.
Thus the language of sin as applied to systemic disenfranchisement is an appropriate response. We should feel both moral revulsion and physical sickness just at the thought of people wanting to hold on to power for purposes of profit over the well-being of the least of these. It is in the ballot box where we most definitely can express our feeling of unease and distress over the quality of our lives to the leadership of our nation. But when that is not heard, we also have a biological impulse to take to the streets, cry-out, move our bodies, express distress and share in the experience of others’ distress. This is what I saw yesterday. The people in the courts, the people in the legislature and the person in the governor’s seat should take note: we won’t be silent because we can’t be silent. Our distress has a biological basis, and out bodies tell us so. Our power comes from the blood.
Enrique Gómez is President of the Jackson County NC NAACP and an Associate Professor of Physics at Western Carolina University, specializing in the astrophysics of supernovae and stellar outflows.