Stories from the March: We Belong to One Another

The Women’s March https://www.womensmarch.com on the day following President Trump’s Inauguration was a grassroots movement that brought millions into the streets (in cities across the nation and world).  Each person who marched has their own story. 

This is the second of two ‘guest blog’ installments by my friend and pastoral colleague, Julie Flowers https://www.fbcbeverly.org/ In the week since the March, President Trump has already written a flurry of executive orders and signaled plans for new laws.  Changes that I believe will erode our core values as a nation. 

Democracy is a fragile enterprise and requires that each generation give voice to and protect those core values that define who we want to be.  I invite you to read Julie’s story, reflect on what you hold dear and get involved.  

Installment 2: In Which We March

(Intersectionality, Connection, Anti-Racism, Feminism, and a Moment That Could be a Movement)

 We followed the crush of people up the stairs and out of the Metro station, stepping out into the overcast Washington, D.C. morning. Elisabeth and I paused, trying to get our bearings. There were people everywhere. There were street vendors calling to us, selling hats, shirts, and buttons; there were crowds moving in a throng toward the National Mall; there were Women’s March volunteers in orange mesh vests, answering questions and pointing the way toward where the marchers were gathering: down toward the Mall, past the vast island of port-a-potties, a chanting, cheering, sign-holding crowded that already, even at this early morning hour, stretched for city blocks. Taking it all in, Elisabeth and I set out toward the Mall, as chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” echoed just beyond us.

photo-womens-march-4

We made our way, merging into the crowd we had seen in the distance. Now we were not outsiders looking in – we were one with this mass of people, closely packed into the streets. The crowd was mostly women, although there were certainly a large number of men – of all ages, all races, and with varied stories. Some were there in wheelchairs. Others walked with a walker or a cane. Some clutched the hands of young children or wore babies in carriers, securely strapped to their bodies. And we were a part of it.

All around us, we saw signs – “Look at that one!” we would call out to one another, as we noticed a favorite. We took pictures. Everyone was talking, strangers in the crowd becoming friends, even if only for those few moments. We were united in a common cause – resisting hate and standing up for women, for our POC sisters and brothers, for immigrants, for Muslims, for the environment, for education, for freedom.

photo-womens-march-3

Something happened, there in that place. For those moments, in that unique time, in a crowd that could have been pushy and angry with one another, annoyed at being packed in too tight and too close, annoyed at being hungry and thirsty and tired, the opposite happened. People saw one another. People worked together to make sure a wheelchair could easily pass through. Young people stopped to help older people down a curb or over a low fence. A middle-aged woman led a young woman who looked faint out of the tightest part of the crowd by the hand. They had only met moments before when the older woman noticed the younger one was struggling, and now, in this place, they were friends – and more than that – they belonged to one another.

There was an attention to and a care for the mutual well-being of those in that crowd. I saw people look one another in the eye. I heard people offer words of care, kindness, and support. I saw countless people in one area open bags and produce a wide array of snacks for a little boy who was hungry.

Lilla Watson, an Indigenous woman and artist from Australia, said:

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

In those moments, crowded together there on the National Mall, spilling over onto city street upon city street, there was the spark of the realization that our liberation is, indeed, bound up with one another. We were a sea of stories; a sea of backgrounds; a sea of experiences, and we could not – and we cannot – rise without one another.

Feminism – and make no mistake, the feminist movement has room for women and men – must be an intersectional endeavor if we truly want to bring about our shared liberation. Intersectionality, a term first coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw is a means to express the reality that women experience oppression in varying configurations and degrees of intensity.

There is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism. For example, black women face both sexism and racism as they navigate their day-to-day lives. Or a black lesbian woman faces racism, sexism, and homophobia. Intersectionality is the term given to acknowledging those layers and unique lived experiences of women.

To forge a way forward, to truly resist the hateful rhetoric and damaging and dangerous actions of Donald Trump’s administration, we must acknowledge that our liberation is bound up in one another’s. As a white woman, too, I am committed to acknowledging and checking the privilege that the system affords me for nothing more than the color of the skin into which I was born, and to inviting the voices and the experiences and the leadership of my sisters of color to come forward. Women and men of color in this nation have been fighting and marching and chanting and organizing against a system that oppresses and disenfranchises them for hundreds of years.

photo-womens-march-5

For many of us, waking up in despair on November 9th and all that has unfolded since, has been but a small taste of what it’s been like to stand in their shoes in this nation. Respect for their voices, their experiences, and their struggle is imperative if we wish to move ahead and win liberation against tyranny and hate for all of us. If we wish to move ahead and save our planet. If we wish to move ahead and protect women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies. If we wish to move ahead and fight for equal rights and dignity and justice for all people.

Our liberation is bound up with each other. Divided, we will fall. There is no question.

The women’s marches – not only in Washington, D.C. but all across the nation and around the world – were a moment. But there is, within that moment, the power and the potential to unleash a movement. A beautiful, powerful, intersectional, anti-racist, feminist, justice-seeking, movement.

The chants of the march echo still in my ears: “The people, united, will never be defeated!”

May it be so.

If you want to read more about feminism, intersectionality, and the Women’s March, here are a few resources (not intended to exhaustive in any way!) to get you started:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional/

http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/1/17/14267766/womens-march-on-washington-inauguration-trump-feminism-intersectionaltiy-race-class

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/intersectionality-womens-march-on-washington_us_5883e2bce4b096b4a23248bb

Dr. King Still Speaks

This most recent presidential election season saw the normalizing of white nationalism and fanning of racial tension for the cause of political expediency.  The Black Lives Matter movement reminds us that racism, particularly within the judicial system, where people of color make up a disproportionate percentage of those incarcerated, remains a persistent stain upon the soul of our nation.

We have much work to do.

Dr. King was a prophet.  He spoke truth to power. His message was rooted in the righteous anger of prophets like Amos 5:24 and Jesus who wept over Jerusalem and said ‘If now, even now, you knew the things that make for peace.’

Dr. King’s letter from his jail cell in Birmingham still speaks.  Speaks to those of us who are complicit in our silence.  Speaks to encourage those standing up for those on the margins (people of color, the poor, refugees, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ, women denied equal rights).

Dr. King still speaks.  Let us listen.  Let us respond. ~ Kent Harrop

mlk-jail

Letter from Birmingham Jail or Letter from Birmingham City Jail, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader. . He gave bits and pieces of the letter to his lawyers to take back to movement headquarters, where the Reverend Wyatt Walker began compiling and editing the literary jigsaw puzzle.

King’s letter is a response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963, titled “A Call For Unity“. The clergymen agreed that social injustices existed but argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought solely in the courts, not in the streets. They criticized Martin Luther King, calling him an “outside agitator” who causes trouble in the streets of Birmingham.  Below are highlights from the more lengthy letter penned by Dr. King.

 

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

16 April 1963 My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet like speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” ….

…But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”;

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”  So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.