Weaving Networks of Mutuality and Justice
I recently re-read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” after the verdicts in Ferguson, Missouri and New York, where police officers were acquitted for the killings of two unarmed African American men. Similar to so many people across the country, the verdicts left me angry at the racism in our systems; sad for the loss of these men’s lives; and questioning what is needed to transform the way we, as people, understand the value of human life. In reading Dr. King’s letter, I was inspired by his wisdom. I was moved by his call for all people to take a stand against racism and injustice, and reminded of our interdependence as humans, and our responsibility for each other.
Dr. King wrote the letter in 1963 in response to criticism from Jewish and Christian leaders who did not approve of his and other civil rights leaders’ tactics of direct action, civil disobedience, and boycotts in their campaign to end racist treatment of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. In jail after his thirteenth arrest, Dr. King responded to these religious leaders about why disruption is necessary to interrupt a long history of systemic, violent and hateful treatment of African Americans.
In the letter, Dr. King said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” In other words, we are interconnected in our neighborhoods, our country and on our planet. In the same way that natural ecosystems are environments where the thriving of living beings is interdependent, how we, humans, live together in our society is a complex interconnected system.
As social change leaders, we know this and see this every day. Whether we are supporting a survivor of domestic violence or working on ending climate change or organizing for a labor union, the paths we travel are parallel.
When we speak out about the pattern of African American men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown (and Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant) being shot by police officers, we aim to create solutions that will involve systemic change. Perhaps, transformation of the role police in our society, and creation of an economic and educational system that makes sure everyone – regardless of race, gender, economic status, geography – can thrive.
This means, in our work to end violence against women and girls, we also support accessible and quality education, transforming the prison industrial complex, and ending the dehumanization of immigrants. In our work to curb climate change, we must also care about the health and safety of women and girls. In our work to end police brutality, we must support livable wage jobs and health care for all.
Dr. King states that we are connected in a “network of mutuality.” I believe his message is relevant today: we must work for social change that acknowledges this network and see all of our work for social good as creating possibility, freedom and power for all people.
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