By Susan Blythe-Goodman
I love a good mass march. Growing up outside of D.C., I went to marches and rallies from before I can remember. Many of the first songs I learned were protest songs and chants.
Despite this, I was a little nervous before the Women’s March. The week before, I discovered online arguments about the request for a silent march. Discussions turned hostile, and the comment section was shut down. I worried the march would only shush the voices of the most marginalized.
Upon arriving, there were funny signs and the streets were packed. To be in the middle of that energy always feels exhilarating. Then, the whispers of the movement began.
I stood on the side waiting for a friend who was a few blocks back, and a woman came up to me and handed me a pink hat. She had a bag full of hats she had crocheted, and she gave them to anyone who wanted one. A man asked his friends if they had any water, so I handed him one of the extra bottles I had brought. One marcher had a headache, so my friend called out, “Anyone have Advil?” and another marcher came to the rescue. All this reminded me of the importance of these marches. This is a beloved community that we have, because we can take care of each other when we’re worried and in need.
We walked and cheered for different things. The bald eagles circling overhead. Finally turning onto Jackson and officially being in the march. Seeing crowds as far as the eye could see in both directions. Going under the bridge and hearing amazing acoustics.
Downtown I started walking with the Womxn of Color and Families Contingent. As I finished the march with them, the sweet moments from before became organized values. The chants affirmed immigrants and refugees, voicing fears and refusing to be silenced. At each speaker, the contingent would listen, then regroup. Chanting: “Banners, strollers, wheelchairs, flags.” They made sure mothers with young kids and folks with disabilities came to the front to lead the way. Mass marching is an easy time to say that work is too hard, we’ll listen around a table as we debrief next week. Seeing a group actively take the time to center the most silenced was an active reminder. It reminded me what this beloved community can look like if we work for it.
The highlight was seeing a few girls, younger than 10, on the sideline start a chant that the march picked up. It’s the first chant I remember learning as a kid, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” (I learned it for George H.W. Bush, which is not to say it is a partisan chant. You can insert any cause or politician in!) If there is one thing I wanted that march to do, it was for women of every age to exercise their voice.
Last week hit me hard. Orders and memos were signed that terrified me. I was anxious that the energy from the march would fizzle as folks refocused on their daily work. After such a good show of solidarity, I felt like I lost my voice all week. People with Green Cards and Visas were detained at airports for seeming too Muslim.
Showing up at the airport, it was the same thousands of people who had marched get loud again. They were chanting, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” This beloved community is not for one weekend, one march, one cause.
This road is going to be hard, messy, and long. We are a diverse community, including in political beliefs, and we won’t agree with everything we hear. But we’re in this community, and I’m feeling energized to do this work, to find our voice, to build this beloved community.
By Bill Malcomson
Written on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2017
Today is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday celebration. I want to tell you about what this means to me.
In August of 1963 I was living in Storrs, CT. I was pastoring a small church out in the country near Storrs. My good friend Warren Molton, the campus minister at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, called me and said "Let's go to the March on Washington."
I was hesitant. According to the media, it could be a pretty scary event. Some feared a riot. I am not big on risk-taking. But Warren persisted, and I said ok. We took the train to D.C. Almost immediately we were caught up in the atmosphere of celebration on the mall. Marching, singing freedom songs (none of which I knew), feeling at one with the folks there. Even though police surrounded the mall, there was no sense of foreboding. I do not remember any of the speeches or the performers--until the latter part of the afternoon. Dr. King was introduced and immediately there was silence. He gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. After he was done, we stood transfixed for a moment and then the clapping began. Had he asked us to do anything right at that moment, we would have done it. Warren and I got on the train to go home. Someone played the speech on the radio.
As I reflected on the event and talked with some of my congregation and friends, we felt that we had to do something. We decided to form the Human Rights Council of the Greater Willimantic (the nearest city) Area. We did not do anything particularly spectacular, but we did get African-Americans and white folks together and shared mutual concerns. The man we recruited to chair the organization later headed the Community Action Program in the area, a part of the War on Poverty, and even later became the executive of the ACLU for the state of Connecticut--William Olds.
My life was changed forever. I became a participant in the Freedom Movement. When we moved to Kansas City, I helped administer the fair housing project, became involved in working with prisoners at Kansas State penitentiary, and various other freedom oriented groups. The March on Washington was a march "for jobs and freedom." Civil rights was a part of the movement, but for many of us, what we had signed onto was a freedom movement--freedom for all persons. Freedom for women and for men, freedom for persons released from prison, freedom for LGBTQ persons. I am a white man, but unless all people are free, I am not free. Free to be whom we wish to be. Free to be one with all who want to be free.
In the Bay Area I became involved with Asian-Americans and their struggles. When I became Dean of American Baptist Seminary of the West, we all worked to become the most ethnically diverse faculty in the Graduate Theological Union (9 institutions). Our seminary also became deeply committed to training Latino ministers, particularly in southern California. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
When I say that my life was changed by the March and by Dr. King, what I mean is that I set off on a journey which involved me in whatever position I held or in whatever place I lived in the lives of an incredible variety of fellow humans: African-Americans, Asian-Americans, women in ministry, LGBTQ persons, Latino-Americans, Indian people, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and on and on. My life is incredibly rich because of this.
"Freeeeedom, Freeeedom, Freedom, Freedom.
Everybody wants freedom,
Everybody wants freedom,
May all beings be free.
By Jim Segaar
Here is my Servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in who I delight! I have endowed you with my Spirit that you may bring true justice to the nations.
I thirst for justice.
I long for justice.
I crave justice.
Chances are, so do you.
But there’s an itsy bitsy problem with those statements. What does justice really mean?
Our culture venerates justice, while it also avoids defining it consistently. Wikipedia says that justice is “the legal or philosophical theory by which fairness is administered,” but then goes on to point out that the concept of justice differs in every culture.
So how about our culture? Well several of the top hits for “justice” that I got from Google this morning were for a brand of clothing. At shopjustice.com you can buy justice, as long as you define it as “your one-stop-shop for the cutest & most on-trend styles in tween girls' clothing.”
If you’re not in the market for tween girls’ clothing perhaps you’d prefer to focus on another top hit: the “Justice League.” That’s a group of CGI superheroes including Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Aquaman, and the Flash. In their case justice seems to require lots of flying and fighting and smashing things while looking impossibly ripped.
I doubt that the author of Isaiah was writing about tweens or superheroes. But that’s what is so insidious about our culture. It is just fine if we enshrine justice, worship justice, demand justice, as long as we don’t get too picky about its definition. As long as justice equates to maintaining the status quo, favors the “right” people, and keeps troublemakers in their place. Of course as a plus it can sell cheap clothing and expensive movie tickets.
If justice is so nebulous, why do the world’s great prophets continue to cry out for it? Isaiah. Micah. James. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Everyone of them longed for justice, and each of them lived and died in a culture dedicated to keeping the rich and powerful on the top of the heap through whatever means necessary.
I have no doubt that most people believe in justice. But all too often I think we define justice as whatever is good for us, what is fair for people like me, what I know to be safe, comfortable, correct. It’s not an issue of “left” or “right,” “liberal” or “conservative.” It’s an issue of protecting what is mine, what I and people like me value the most, and condemning or ignoring what we find strange or unacceptable.
So what did Jesus have to say on the matter? He described a topsy-turvy world where the first will be last and the last first, where the poor inherit the earth, where the oppressed and powerless show us the way to God. This is Jesus the Revolutionary talking.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. His world included oppressors as well as the oppressed, Roman officers as well as Samaritan women. He consorted with the rich and the poor, with tax collectors as well as beggars. He even took time to meet with the religious elite like Nicodemus, at night, in private, so as not to embarrass him. And he told them all that they needed to change, to be born anew.
So how do we define justice? Perhaps instead of using words, we can use models. We can define justice through the life of Jesus, and how he lived, and how he made room for everyone. It would include a living wage for teachers in Seattle and for cowboys in Montana. The ability to live in safety for Native Americans in North Dakota and for poor white families in coal country. Freedom to worship for Muslims in Manhattan and Methodists in Memphis. Respect for the homeless and for billionaires. Freedom of speech for Meryl Streep and Donald Trump.
The hymn O for a World by Miriam Therese Winter begins like this:
O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways,
Where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.
To truly find justice, we must love and respect even those with whom we have the least in common, those others who we simply don’t understand, even those lowlifes who in our version of a perfect world wouldn’t even exist. Only by demanding justice for everyone, even our enemies, will we truly find it for ourselves.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist