On Justice: Why I Might Get Arrested Tuesday Evening

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…until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained and there can never be lasting peace upon earth.” - Helen Keller 

“Justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West

She stood in front of a group of 50 or 60 people in a church hall and she wept. He was a light in this world, she said. He was shot and killed, defenseless, in the night.

“What demands will be made on Tuesday?” she was asked. She would stand in the City Council meeting until they made good on their promises to investigate, she said, and to fire the officer who killed her son. This grieving mother would stand there until they took her away if necessary. At that point a voice rose inside me loudly proclaiming: “And some of us will be standing with her!”

So it happened that I committed myself to risking arrest Tuesday night. If it comes to it, I will risk arrest not simply because this grieving family requires justice. I will risk arrest because we all require justice.

Alan Blueford was a high school senior killed by Oakland Police officer Miguel Masso on May 6th, 2012. A friend recently commented that I was “organizing for some kid you’ve never even met.” He meant this as a reflection on my good character, but the comment stays with me because it points to an idea, perhaps, that I’m doing this strictly out of empathy. It also brings to mind other friends who hold to the idea that we should only help our families and friends, as though we are not dependent upon the entire web of existence for our lives. As though we are not all in this together.

In what manner are we independent from each other? We have our lives, our forms of self-expression, our devotional practices, anger, worries, and laughter, and the people we prefer to spend time with. We also are interdependent. Every breath we take is dependent on trees, scores of microbes, water, and sun. The food we eat, the clothing we wear, the homes we are fortunate enough to live in, the roads we travel, all have been made in concert with other beings: human, animal, plant, and mineral, and the spirits that dwell with and within them.

I have written on the topic of justice many times. It has become my frame for all things that plague our world: environmental devastation, war, poverty, oppression, inequality, entitlement, and privilege. Our government is broken. The earth suffers. War has become endless. Poverty is rising. Oligarchy has entrenched itself in a society where it once was deemed unthinkable. As a citizen of this earth, the only way for me to honor the Beloved Community is to seek justice everywhere, to call out its name in darkness and in light.

Justice holds within it the qualities of equity, right treatment, harmonious relationship, and appreciation. I do not feel our harmony. I do not see equity. Something is awry in this culture we have built together, stemming from an injustice rooted in a pernicious blindness to our interdependence.

WE ARE ALL RELIGIOUS LEADERS

I facilitated the meeting in question, which organized by the Interfaith Tent for Justice. We invited leaders from the local religious community to hear the story of the Blueford family and organize toward actions designed to bring about justice.

Out of all the religious leaders we invited, few arrived, yet the room was filled with concerned people. When someone commented on the paucity of ministers in the gathering, my reply was “We are all religious leaders here.” I feel this to be true. In talking with a civil rights lawyer  after the meeting, he commented that religious leaders are too busy engaging in turf wars to come together on larger community issues. Looking around that room, and in my own communities, I sometimes see opposite proof of his statement, and other times wonder – as another petty conflict arises – whether that might not be true.

Out of the list of Pagans I invited, two showed up: one, long time activist George Franklin, and the other, Crystal Blanton who works each day with young people who attempt to survive neighborhoods and homes filled with poverty, addiction, or violence. Some of these youth – just like Alan Blueford, Gary King, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin – do not make it through.

We can change this. We must. People have asked me how I have the time to spend on justice issues. I wonder how they have the time NOT to spend on justice issues. I recognize my privilege in having food, shelter, work, and (currently) no ailing family to care for. I also recognize that working for justice need not be a big deal. The intention can be channeled into a letter written, food dropped off, or an hour put in.

Crystal told me she plans to attend the City Council meeting. When she said, “I already had a babysitter for Tuesday,” I replied, “You could take some time for yourself.” She has a husband and children and a stressful job. She insists that going to the City Council meeting to be there for this family will help her.

In a world of hurt, any action we can take is an act for our own hearts and souls, as well as for the greater good.

Violence, racism, and injustice are systemic, but the solutions can be found in the particular: this child, these grieving parents, this hungry mouth, this river, these trees. We each have our ways in which we give back to the greater whole. We each have our ways in which we contribute to justice and injustice, to harmony and discord. We each get a chance to choose, daily, what our contributions will be. We are all part of this system. Alan Blueford isn’t some kid I’ve never met. He is each of us. 

This Tuesday evening, if it becomes necessary, I will risk arrest. Not for Alan Blueford, though his lost life is the impetus, but for us all.

How do you support justice? What does this look like in your life? I’d love to hear our stories. Can we gather together and share? Humans have long shared our stories, and our stories carry us through.

Thank you for listening to mine. 

 

Those of you who live in or near Oakland California, the Interfaith Tent is organizing a candlelight march in October. Please join us if you can. If you feel inspired, please spread the word. You are also welcome to attend the Oakland City Council meeting September 18th, 5pm.

In the edited video from this meeting, Jeralyn Blueford begins speaking at 2:1

 

Those who have been following my work on the quest for justice for Alan Blueford, here is a report from Tuesday evening’s events: 
The head of the city council walked away from the meeting. Counselor Reid has said that protests shut the meeting down. What
 really happened is they promised something – a police report and the police chief – did not deliver, did not say why, and when we became upset (most of them) just left. We plan to return.

Here is Oakland North’s story about the meeting.

23 Responses to “On Justice: Why I Might Get Arrested Tuesday Evening”

  1. David Salisbury

    Justice is absolutely vital to my practice and my life in general. I work for LGBT rights nationally as my day-job and outside of the office I campaign for animal rights. Every winter I go door to door and deliver dry straw to outside dogs and attempt to ask owners to bring them indoors.

    I’ve never thought of justice as a selfless task because for me, the work feeds my soul and heals me on deep levels. It keeps me from burning out and becoming jaded. It brings me hope.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Thank you, as always, for your work. I agree that service is not selfless. Service is vital to our well being.

      Reply
  2. Kim McDonald

    Thorn,
    First of all, thank you for your light and your example. May you be safe. Your story hit home for me because I know so many young people like Alan Blueford. So many of the children in my Shelter struggle against poverty, poor education, and violence, both at home and in their community.

    I see many kids who have spent a great majority of their childhoods in some form of state care. A great many of them will age out of the system unprepared to live on their own. I’ve had young people die of drug overdose and of suicide. More and more I realize we cannot rely on government to solve this epidemic. There has to be a grassroots movement in every community made up of people committed to helping and saving these children before they become another statistic, no matter what their socio-economic or ethnic background.

    My Shelter is temporary. I never know how long a child will be there, a couple of days or many months. My primary goal is not just to feed them and clothe them, although that is vital, but to do what I can to help them start to heal and to realize that not all adults are out to harm them and that they can have a better life. We cannot do it alone and are blessed to be part of a community that wants us to succeed.

    Everyday I go to work is a committment to justice and a personal testimony to my belief that We the People can make this country and this world a better place.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Kim, thank you so much for your work on behalf of the Beloved Community.

      The thing about Alan is, his family is actually an ordinary middle class family. Not even high risk. But in an over-culture where the deck is stacked against young brown and black men, that doesn’t even matter.

      Reply
  3. Oriana

    In a blog I just read about returning to the “default world” after Burning man I read a quote I would like to share. It was the closing paragraph to the section the author titled – Expect More From Strangers

    “Remember, nearly everyone you know was once a stranger. Expecting more of strangers increases the likelihood that the people you meet will become a part of that sometimes elusive network of connections we call community.”

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Oriana, this is an important point, and one that the ancient stories talk of, time and time again: of Gods and angels coming in the guise of strangers. If the sacred is within us all, should we not find ways to honor it?

      Reply
  4. Crystal Blanton

    The idea of social justice is not something that is for one person, it is justice that applies to all people and will support lives in the future. This is good work Thorn, and to all those who stand against the injustices of a system that beats people down and then walks away. I want a better world for all of my children (those I birth and those I counsel).

    It is this type of work that pushes at the priorities we have in our lives and busts them down. We all have enough time to be present in work that will ultimately lead to freedom. Thank you for your example and for being a person who opens the doors to change.

    Reply
  5. Michael

    Thank you Thorn for the opportunity to share.

    Doing what I can to contribute to what my understanding of justice is is an essential part of my practice, and a necessary part of my survival.

    I’ve been volunteering my time to do street outreach in the Tenderloin of San Francisco – helping to distribute condoms, clean injection supplies, and crack smoking supplies. I also help in a community clinic in the neighborhood as a volunteer.

    Thanks for the work that you do, and I appreciate being able to share what I can do, and read the other ways in which people do what they do.

    :)
    Michael

    Reply
  6. Aquila Ka Hecate

    Bless you, Thorn.
    Community of humans and relationship of humans with each other and the rest of the living world is largely what has been obliterated by civilization – western industrialized civilization in particular.
    The more we can see this,the more we will take steps to remedy it.Hopefully.
    Love,
    Terri in Joburg

    Reply
  7. Peter Dybing

    Thorn both you and Crystal are great examples of “Active Justice” This concept becomes tepid, week and abstract when not put into action. Bless you for your actions and the purpose that drives you.

    In deep love and respect.
    Peter

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Blessings back! When any of the “virtues” remain theoretical their power diminishes. This is why praxis is the foundation of my life and work. Gnosis gives connection and context, but praxis gives things life.

      Reply
  8. Sophia

    Thorn, We stand with you! As you step forward for justice, we stand with you. We are so very grateful that you are a shining example if the strength we each can be.
    Blessings to you, this evening and always!

    Reply
  9. Wendy with Uhuru Solidarity

    I really appreciate your article and your discussion about how we are all interconnected. We are all part of this system so therefore we must actively oppose this system of injustice.

    I wanted to invite you and your readers to be a part of A Day in Solidarity with African People. This is a campaign taking place throughout the world to organize whites and other allies in unity with the African community struggle for self-determination and justice led by the Uhuru Movement. The Black is Back Coalition spoke at city council tonight which is made up of members of the Uhuru Movement and the Oscar Grant Foundation and others.

    I hope you can be a part of it. We have our event on Saturday, October 6th at the Niebyl Proctor Library at 6501 Telegraph in Oakland at 2:30pm. Here are the details – http://uhurunews.com/event?resource_name=days-in-solidarity-with-african-people-oakland-event

    Thanks again for your statement,
    Wendy

    Reply
  10. Rootrealm

    What was accomplished Tuesday for Alan Blueford? A SF Chronicle article by Chip Johnson reported that the Tuesday city council meeting disintegrated into mob control and obscenities. When an Uhuru house speaker refused to observe speaker time limits, City COuncil president Larry Reid walked out.

    FOr those wishing to highlight Alan Blueford’s innocence and seek justice for him, Uhuru House would not be a good ally in this quest. After Lovelle Mixon killed 4 police officers in East Oakland in 2009, Uhuru House activists circulated flyers requesting public attendance at a rally to “uphold the resistance of Brother Lovelle Mixon” and subsequently held a parade in support of this violent murderer.

    The quest for justice is important and beautiful, but I think should be undertaken with care and wisdom and honorable behavior. Obscenity laden mob rule (at Tuesday’s City Council meeting), refusal to condemn participants who advocate violence or vandalism (in Occupy Oakland), and failure to criticize or separate from those whose position is not against police brutality but against the police and FOR violent criminals(Uhuru HOuse), can doom a quest for justice.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Hi Rootrealm,

      I did not hear obscenities shouted during the council meeting and would not liken the crowd gathered to an ‘obscenity laden mob’.

      Uhuru House, in my observation, was using the Blueford case to advertise an upcoming event, as you can see in the comment one member left here on my blog. It was an open city council meeting, so anyone who got a speaker’s ticket OKd could talk. I would not have chosen to have them speak.

      A pretty good account of what happened is here:

      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/09/19/1133815/-No-Justice-No-Peace

      There were many Occupy Oakland folks there, which includes those of us from the Interfaith Tent. The Blueford family has always been clear that no vandalism or violence must be part of this quest. That is being respected by all parties.

      After a 45 minute “10 minute break” in which the police chief and police report were both promised to be showing up, and then were not. the irony of the council wanting to get back to the business of declaring Oakland a City of Peace was a bit much. So yes, we booed. And chanted “no justice, no peace.” It seemed pretty clear that Reid just wants the Blueford’s to go quietly away. Some of the council members are quite upset at the treatment of the Bluefords.

      We will keep working for justice. Thanks for your support.

      Reply
    • Crystal Blanton

      Thorn addressed specifics about the meeting that I agree with. I did not hear obscenities but did hear a lot of chanting “no justice no peace” and “justice for Alan Blueford”. I showed up as a part of the Interfaith tent’s activities and have no control over what other organizations come to say or do.

      But more than all of that….. your question was what was accomplished. I think as a person that became involved, I would say that it gave me a chance to be a part of something I believe is wrong and help to support change. I know that Alan Blueford will not get the justice he deserves but we can speak up and speak out in honor of him and all the others.

      I think that the concerned citizens of Oakland need to learn to exercise their voice and not be tied to an immediate outcome. The first step is recognizing that the Gods gifted us with the power of words and for that we have a obligation to live for justice and speak for justice.

      Tuesday, for me, was a step in being a part of movement that says I matter and so does every person. If I sit by and watch these injustices happen without being present for change… then I have some responsibility in how the trigger of a gun is pulled. I want to be present for change.

      Just my thoughts and the reasons I made the decision to participate.

      Reply
  11. Rootrealm

    I’m glad to hear that you both feel positive things were accomplished by going to the meeting and speaking up, and that the Blueford Family renounces violence and vandalism in its pursuit of justice. I wonder why Chip Johnson’s account of the meeting was quite different.

    I watched the first City COuncil meeting where the Bluefords attended and spoke, on TV, but I didn’t see this last meeting on TV. I’ve attended City Council meetings dealing with much less serious issues, eg a business applying for a license to sell alcohol, and seen quite disruptive behavior and even threats of violence over such small issues. I think better controls are needed in running these meetings so people can feel safe.

    I know from my own pursuits of justice that often we’re met with a non-response, people refusing to take my calls or respond in any way to my concerns. IT can be fatiguing and one feels like giving up. Which is why I’ve often just given up, at the practical external level, and turned to inner dimensions and Magic to seek justice that way.
    HOwever, I also realize that when there may be legal issues involved, as is the case here (if the City is sued over this issue), leaders or City Council members may be reluctant to speak because of legal liability issues.

    Reply

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