“It is our common tragedy that we have lost [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] prophetic voice but it would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate are now ignored.” So wrote Coretta Scott King in the forward of Dr. King’s final book Where Do We Go from Here, his analysis of American race relations and the state of the movement after a decade of civil rights efforts. Each year, we honor his life and his legacy on his birthday. 2018 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death—a time for us to take account of our troubled times and truly pay attention to the message of his lessons.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.
By Jeanne Theoharis: The air was hot and sticky. Surrounded by clergy, Rev. William Barber lambasted the voter suppression that had compromised the 2016 presidential election. “Long before Russia hacked our election, our government was hacked by racism.” Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and the Supreme Court’s 2013 stripping of the Voting Rights Act, Barber explained, twenty-two states had passed new laws making it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote.
By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: “The system is rigged!” is now an angry, bipartisan cry, intensifying as Trump bows to big-donor interests and deepens distrust of government. But here’s the worst part. Not only has big-donor influence blocked life-saving public actions, from worker safety to climate change, but in recent decades political donors have gotten savvier. They’ve been able not only to bend policy for their own benefit, but, increasingly, to remake the rules of democracy itself to serve their interests. Here’s a taste of what we mean.
By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: In today’s fraught and frightened America, the word “democracy” could well evoke the rolling of eyes, a blank stare, or wide-eyed incredulity. Certainly not the pitter-patter of hearts. But what if Americans were convinced that all we care most about—from our kids’ future to the immediate need for a decent job or safe drinking water—depended on falling in love with democracy? Might more of us at least be open to the possibility of taking the leap? Something like that happened for us.
The recognition represented a profound, heartfelt act of retrospective justice, because Lay had been unjustly disowned in the first place. It was a symbolic rejection of what a previous slave-owning generation of Quakers had done and it was simultaneously an affirmation that Benjamin Lay’s values matter to the Abington congregation, in the present and for the future. I learned during my research that Lay dearly loved his fellow Quakers—at least those who did not own slaves—and that his exclusion was terribly painful to him. It was therefore deeply touching, 279 years later, to know that he has been brought back into the fold. This act would have meant everything to him.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. In it, he lays out three important steps to follow in order for the students to reach their full potential, no matter their status life, and calls on them to actively commit to the struggle for freedom and justice. King’s words are inspirational for students of any age, of any era. Especially now during our troubled times. In honor of the speech’s anniversary, we’re looking at the ways the empowering message of his speech resonates and guides us still today.
A Q&A with Jennifer Browdy: Writing is one of the most powerful forms of activism, because it can live on into the future, rippling out in unpredictable ways and inspiring so many others. The writers included in Women Writing Resistance are actively reaching out to communicate their perspectives on a whole host of human rights and social justice issues. For them, writing is an act of resistance to all the mainstream forces that too often have silenced and ignored women’s voices. It’s a way of taking back their agency and insisting on being heard.
A Q&A with Jonathan Rosenblum: I was tremendously heartened in the first days of the Trump administration in January to see thousands of people come out to airports around the US to protest the president’s travel ban. People mobilized because of what was at stake. It was not just the status of foreign travellers, but our core values as a society. In the echoing halls of airport terminals from coast to coast, a spirit of resistance and humanity came alive.
A Q&A with Jonathan Rosenblum: In my experience bargaining union contracts and negotiating with politicians, I’ve found that it’s easy to overestimate the importance of what happens at the bargaining table. When I’ve led union negotiations, I’ve emphasized to bargaining team members that what we win in the end depends ninety percent on what we do outside of bargaining, and only ten percent on what takes place inside the room.
By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: Celebrate democracy. Invite local musicians to a public park or library event room to share and teach songs related to freedom and democracy. And if you have the clout of an organization behind you, goad them to go for the spectacular. Imagine tens of thousands in a big-city stadium celebrating democracy. Wouldn’t Bruce Springsteen be up for that? We love the idea of audiences honoring Leonard Cohen by chanting and swaying to his powerful “Democracy,” with its refrain “Democracy is coming to the USA.” Concerts with a message have an impressive history.
By Joseph Rosenbloom: As a graduate student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about the social ill of poverty and vowed to do something about it. He put the resolve on hold. For his first decade as a civil rights leader, he dedicated himself to ending racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans, not poverty. By the mid-1960s, however, the idea to grapple with the issue of poverty had seized him with a fierce urgency. “What does it profit a man,” he often quipped, “to be able to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
By José Orduña: When I was ten my dad gave me my first wallet—it was green, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the outside. Then he handed me my identification card, my first green card, which was actually pink. He said we’d gotten it when we’d gone to Juárez but that he didn’t think I was ready to carry it then. I remembered we’d gone very suddenly and that I missed my thirdgrade class trip to an amusement park, that a man I’d never seen showed up at our door in Chicago, and that my dad let him into our house. The next day we were on a Greyhound bus that took three days to get to El Paso, Texas, and then we immediately took a cab across a bridge into Juárez.
By Margaret Regan: On her first day in an Arpaio jail, in the short-term holding pen at Fourth Avenue Jail, Mariana was locked up with twenty other women, most of them older than she was and a lot tougher. None of them had been convicted: they were being held for trial, innocent until proven guilty, but no one would guess that by the treatment they got. Mariana was in the packed cell from ten in the morning until eleven that night, and the only food she and the others got all day was a small bag of peanut butter—an Arpaio specialty—and bread and juice, delivered at 6:00 p.m. There was a single toilet, in a bathroom that had no door.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia are a frightening and disheartening reminder of how hate and intolerance in the US resurface when bigots feel empowered to act on their prejudice. Cornel West described the rally that took place on August 12 as “the biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last thirty to thirty-five years.” Watching the violence unfold left us feeling sorrowful and horrified.
By Martin Luther King, Jr. This is no time for romantic illusions and empty philosophical debates about freedom. This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolent movement. Without recognizing this we will end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t answer, and explanations that don’t explain.
A Q&A with Marcus EriksenPlastic can entangle wildlife, but much of the harm comes from ingesting micro plastics. Single-use products that leave our land are shredding in the oceans to form microplastics the size of grains of rice or smaller. These absorb other pollutants, like pesticides and industrial chemicals, in high concentrations. The literature is showing that these chemicals then migrate into the bodies of marine life when ingested. Plastic is proving to be a vector for pollutants to get into the food chain, which much of humanity harvests to feed itself.
By Wen StephensonThere’s a popular image of Henry David Thoreau as an apolitical hermit, a recluse, aloof and detached, even misanthropic, a crank indulging his private fantasy in his cabin in the woods. This has always been a caricature; his active involvement in the Underground Railroad and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act put the lie to it. We know that he helped multiple fugitives on their way to Canada, guarding over them in his family’s house—the Thoreau family were committed abolitionists, especially his mother and sisters—even escorting them onto the trains, which entailed no small personal risk. And of course, we know that he wrote and spoke forcefully and without compromise against slavery and for human freedom.
By Lennard Davis
Twenty-seven years ago, disability activists threw away their canes, crutches, and wheelchairs. They proceeded to slowly and painfully crawl up the steps to the Capitol to protest those who would block the Americans with Disabilities Act. The “Capitol Crawl,” as the event was called, has become in retrospect a powerful visual symbol the difficulties faced by people with disabilities when confronted with barriers and obstacles created by politicians and others. Now, faced with massive cuts in disability medical care and services under the proposed Republican dismantling of Obamacare and Medicaid, disability activists are staging protests around the country.
By Kay WhitlockHere’s a thought I keep coming back to during this tradition month of Pride celebrations (and protests by some LGBTQ folks against the growing corporate influence and welcoming of strong police presence in Pride celebrations.) It’s not my thought alone. Any number of people—activists, organizers, scholars—have, over many years, voiced something similar. Let’s center criminalized transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer folks in the moral, cultural, and political imaginations and agendas of movements for LGBTQ liberation. Especially criminalized queer communities of color.