“…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.
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
Here is Oakland North’s story about the meeting.