Have you read the August 28, 2020 letter by the civil rights leaders who formed MLK’s inner circle, the one where they formally pass the torch to America’s youth? I suppose not, but you sort of never know… Anyway, I’ve had the pdf open since the day it was released and featured in the WP but hadn’t read it until last night. I was sort of saving it and sort of avoiding it but for some reason, as Labor Day was winding down, it seemed like a good time to see what they had to say. If you want to check it out, here’s the link: https://context-cdn.washingtonpost.com/notes/prod/default/documents/467fc998-41a0-4e32-8283-bd9d5e1b2845/note/e7dc08e2-7bbe-43db-8482-ab404fc285ed.#page=1.
It’s a powerful statement and it’s clear it was carefully crafted. The authors (in alphabetical order: Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Xerona Clayton, Courtland Cox, Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., Reverend Dr. James M. Lawson, Jr., Janet Moses, MD, Robert Moses, and Ambassador Andrew Young) describe a number of key social justice issues, highlighting what was accomplished in the 1960’s for most of them along with what remains to be done. The letter begins by outlining the Civil Rights era’s focus on the need for peaceful protest and the imperative of demanding social justice-oriented changes and then proceeds to outline the case for addressing economic justice and the provision of living wages, securing and exercising voting rights, immediately living into the fundamental truth that Black lives matter and that police brutality fueled by White supremacy must stop, the dire need to rid the nation of guns and gun violence, and the urgent need to boldly address climate change.
They really did a good job. And, if you sense a “but” coming you would be correct. The typo at the end of the letter belies their unfortunate omissions, omissions that, to my mind, undermine their effort and weaken their statement. Here’s the sentence with the typo:
“To honor the memory of our beloved Martin King, we can never be satisfied until we have overcome racism, poverty and racism.”
Yes, they really did repeat the word “racism” twice. I imagine they meant “classism” for the second one, but wouldn’t it have been wonderful if they had forthrightly dealt with sexism and the ways that our oppressive system piles extra heaps of burden onto women of color, and in particular Black women? How hard would it have been to incorporate the still urgent issues relevant to women (unequal pay for equal work, inequitable division of household and childcare labor, gender-based violence, still highly unequal representation in government)?
It’s all of a piece and just because the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s failed to deal with misogyny in a direct manner, it doesn’t mean the next generation shouldn’t be figuring out how to address oppression comprehensively. These civil rights icons did a terrific job of tying in gun violence and climate change, issues that were not at the fore in the 1960’s, and they could have similarly tied in the need to address gender issues – these issues are, after all, human issues and if we address them, everyone benefits. Really.
It might not feel like it right away, but I can almost 100% guarantee that within 20 years of women and BIPOC people being fully enfranchised, our country would be far more humane than it is now and we would be well on our way to living sustainably on our great big patch of earth.
May we all be safe here on our patch of earth.
May we be willing to address the whole picture and fully enfranchise everyone.
May we trust that we are strong and creative enough to do this.
May we accept that our current system needs an overhaul if it is to become sustainable.