Day 5 of our Lenten Journey with Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech
Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
Some highlights from Sarah Thompson’s MLK Day speech at Goshen College, January 16, 2017. Sarah is the executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Still dreaming the Beloved Community into reality, 50 years ago this April, King articulated the connections between the structures of white exploitation of black and brown people in this country, the exploitation of black and brown bodies and land through war, and the economic system that propelled it.
King named the intricate connections among racism, militarism, and economic exploitation, and warned that when profits become more important than people and planet, society is approaching spiritual doom. Some definitions I’m using:
Racism is the interpersonal and systemic dehumanizing of people of color in the Global North and Global South, the disregard for their ancestral knowledge and lifeways, in deference to Eurocentric worldview and priorities. Racism’s impact looks a little bit different on every group it hits, and while it gives white people unfair advantage and comfort, it also deforms their humanity.
Militarism: the industries and government departments invested in killing and policing people of color’s freedom of movement and sovereignty.
Economic exploitation: increased consumption and production that makes GDP rise, but the money not trickling down—as they say—to everyday people. Economic exploitation is workers not receiving due compensation for their hard labor, and tax-breaks for corporations while the public picks up the bill for oil spills…
… In many ways this election cycle has thrust us into a new unsettling time, for different reasons than King proposed. The attacks on news media, bullying statements from politicians, and gridlock in Congress are making many unsettled, that is, making folks nervous, disturbed, and upset.
We’re upset, and we’re vulnerable, so we have a need to act – to just do something. We’ve been brought up in a very action-oriented society. Yet if we’re acting just to act, we may miss the opportunities of this particular moment in history.
Let’s mobilize these feelings of upset and vulnerability to turn toward each other, to God, and to the Earth. It may be necessary now not to speed up, but to slow down. To take stock, as King did 50 years ago, before he put his life on the line for a radically new vision to unite the poor of every color. Our strength will be our foundation. Our strength will be in our relationships, with our ability to reach across lines of difference and work together.
I believe this “new and unsettling” moment calls us to begin with decolonization.
Beginning with decolonization means to look at the word “unsettling.” We are on this land today as a result of a settler colonial project. As part of that project, my Mennonite ancestors arrived here just three years after the traditional inhabitants were torn from their beds and gardens and marched in harsh conditions hundreds of miles away. The trees were all but cut down by the time we rolled in, running from oppressive situations in Europe, yes…but finding ourselves safer in this land because of the extermination of others. We continue today to benefit from the uprooting of the peoples whose land was stolen from them, to make room for us, the quiet in the land…
… Unsettling our complacent national life begins with disrupting our own. You may stay quiet in demeanor but let’s speak volumes by moving our money away from banks that exploit the poor. With our personal and collective investments let’s boycott military occupation, divest from fossil fuels, and sanction injustice.
Unsettled. Be receptive to the agitated, frustrated young students who challenge us on our complacency and our need for order.
Unsettling. If you are Christian, see yourself in the lineage of Jesus and the social movement of Christianity. Jesus the Savior was a poor, brown-skinned, non-English speaking, dark-haired wandering teacher with a refugee history, who was executed by the state. The Gospel was a new and unsettling force at the time. It challenged the establishment. It was one of the original Poor People’s Campaigns. One of its slogans: “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted!” Those who mourn are blessed when we join them in the streets proclaiming “black lives matter!”…