In the Senate Gallery, the section above the floor of the United States Senate, there was a raucous, involuntary roar as the vote was read confirming Loretta Lynch as the 83rd Attorney General for the United States and the first Black woman to be named to the post. Forgetting proper chamber decorum, the anxious crowd could not contain their enthusiasm. As the crowds spilled out into the hallways when the vote was over, there was a continued clamor in the halls of the Senate to celebrate Loretta Lynch’s confirmation, but also that she surpassed the slim margin that would have made history as the lowest possible confirmation vote for an Attorney General nominee with 51 votes.
The celebrations continued through the halls and onto the steps of the Capitol. Smiles, laughter and joy cut through the cold wind. And while we should be celebrating this moment, we should also be reminded that the battle may be won, but the war is not over.
As I sat in the office of Texas Senator John Cornyn in the days leading up to the vote, I was reminded how far we have to go, not only as a nation as a whole, but also as individual states which make up that nation. A photo of all of the Senators representing the State of Texas showed no racial minorities, apart from Senator Ted Cruz, who, though ethnically is half-Cuban, is racially still considered White. Yet the state struggles with voter laws that have not only been found to be disenfranchising, but down right discriminatory. When the Chief Counsel of the Committee on the Judiciary, a committee overseen by Senator Cornyn, was asked if the Senator would make voting rights a priority and take on the responsibility that the Supreme Court placed on Congress in the Shelby v. Holder decision of 2013, the answer was, “probably not.” And why should we expect that he would want to cede his power to us or to any voter that won’t vote for him, even if it is the right thing to do?
This is an image of the war we are in. We are charged with taking the power away from those people who believe that they will never have to give it up, but only wield it every so often on behalf of the “poor people” who need “help.” This is not only the importance of our fight; it’s the relevance of our vote. We must be called to action to take what could and should be open to everyone, so that there are no spaces when we are making history as “the first” in areas where others have been “the only” for decades or centuries.
Just as we were celebrating the historical achievement of the first Black woman being named to the highest law enforcement position in the nation, less than 40 miles away in Baltimore, people are fighting for justice for yet another unarmed Black person killed by the police. Another image of the war we are in. While we struggle to be the first Black fill-in-the-blank, we are also struggling to be the last Black hashtag killed at the hands of police or other types of law enforcement who are seemingly at war with us – not just evident through the seemingly unending killings, but also through their militarization and belief that they need military grade weapons to protect and serve. This war is not just a war of ideals. It is a war where people are killed, nearly every day. Loretta Lynch will deal with these two issues in her new post, but we are charged to deal with the struggles in our own communities. Whether we are talking about jobs, education, housing, health care, immigration, the environment and so much more, we must remember, these are also areas of battle.
We cannot forget that we are in a war and the span of that war is comprised of smaller battlefields. Winning on one battlefield is far from winning the war. Not only are we limited to being at war with our issues, we are a nation at war with ourselves, with our history, with our rights, with our ideologies, with our protections, with our deliverance of justice. Yes, we may have won the battle of getting a highly qualified Black woman who deserved a much higher vote than she got into the history books, but we must never forget that the opposition to our dreams is really not the people who are on the other side of the battlefield. No, the opposition to the fulfillment of our dreams is us – when we allow ourselves to think that each of these victories, no matter how good they feel, signal that the war is over. The second you put down your weapon and forget that you are still on the battlefield, your enemy will deliver his blow. So let’s celebrate for a moment, but never forget: this battle may be over, but the war continues on.
Janaye Ingram is the National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, Ingram focuses on issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, among others.