A leader should be a servant to the people. However, when I say servant, I do not mean a slave because human agency and the capacity for choice is what distinguishes a leader from a tyrant or a slave. It is not what a person does under compulsion that we tend to hold them morally blameworthy for, but rather, for what they chose to do given that there are or were reasonable alternatives. By servant I mean a person who acknowledges the presence and the humanity of people, makes the time to understand their concerns and desires, and actively chooses to fulfill those ends. The ends of the actions of a good civic leader and good public service should be a more just and equitable society wherein people have the greatest amount of liberty to pursue their goals with limited infringement upon the goals of others. I am a member of the Climate Justice Steering Committee with the local, grassroots, community organization “GotGreen?,” and last year we developed a survey to discover the issues most pertinent to the citizens of south and west Seattle. We hosted several community forums to share our discoveries and to get feedback. The result of our community engagement is a campaign that will focus on food justice, housing security, and access to adequate health care. Had we paternalistically imposed a campaign upon our community instead of being servants to our community we may have missed one of their most important concerns, housing security.
I am not a criminal. I am a human being.
Categorizing and labeling me a criminal as if it were a universal and everlasting classification and definition is not only detrimental to myself, but also our society. I am a human being who at some point in my life committed what has been called a crime.
It is called a crime when people steal food to survive, or clothes to stay warm, or sell drugs when all other work is inaccessible. Yet, when corporate CEO’s rob billions of dollars from our economy and force thousands into homelessness, they are rewarded with severance checks. Pharmaceutical corporations monopolize the “legal” drug market that gets countless people hooked on opiates. The U.S. government kills indigenous people and topples their governments at a whim, but that is also legal. We must challenge what is labeled a crime and why!
The stigmatizing label of “criminal” is dehumanizing, and is inescapable. The ideology of individualism it’s founded upon denies any context, or any future classification. It further creates a renewing and eternal criminal class in American society whereby we are barred from employment, education, and residence. All clearly understood to be dehumanizing practices.
The Prison Industrial Complex is a vicious, insatiable monster that must be dismantled with all of the ideologies that support its existence.
I am a human being.
I was born a human being and I will die a human being. When someone digs up my bones 5,000 years from now and finds my femur they will determine that it belonged to a human, that it is human. There will be no question whether it was a criminal. When my mother was pregnant with me, the doctor did not walk into the room and tell her, “well it looks like you’re having a criminal” when she asked if I was a boy.
I am a human being who has done some things that were wrong, some things that caused harm, and some things that were necessary for my survival. That however, did not augment me from being a human being.
Any concept, argument, justification, or action that asserts otherwise must and will be challenged.
Since, I was first introduced to the concept of making a pilgrimage to the South following in the footsteps of the Freedom Riders and Voting Registration activists, I have been incredibly excited to go to the very places where our liberties and freedoms were fought for and won. I fully understand that racial and political climate is not the same today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, but to feel the same weather, to walk some of the same streets, to see some of the same buildings and landscapes will help to make the stories more tangible to me. I have also just received notification that voting for all equally is still being challenged in Alabama: According to “Raw Story,” in the counties where 75% or greater of the registered voters are non-white citizens they will stop issuing driver’s licenses. This is a problem because photo identification is required to vote in Alabama and this will potentially bar people in those counties from voting. So, although the situation is different there are also more than remnants of the Civil Rights Era for us to learn from and participate.
Without question, the component of this adventure that I am most apprehensive about is all the cushy, emotional, touchy, feely stuff that has become such a norm at all of our meetings; and we are going to be on a bus together for over a week where I am sure this will be an expectation. I do believe that these types of experiences have their place, but because I have been so active in fighting an unjust system and in reactive modes of operation wherein I have had to silence or hide my emotions, this is somewhat difficult for me. On the one hand, it often feels like a waste of time to me, especially, since there are battles that I believe need to be fought. For example, while we will be on this pilgrimage the budget hearings for the City of Seattle will be going on and will be determining how much money is allocated for alternatives to incarcerating youth; a struggle that we have been waging for quite some time. Or in other cases, such as, people dying from police brutality, when responses to the unprovoked and unjust violence are necessary.
In my brain and the way that I have been thinking for so long, getting mushy and emotional has not been a high priority. However, I have also been coming to realize the importance of building community and that requires a deeper and more personal characteristic to our and my relationships. This is something that I have been watching emerge in the pilgrimage group. So, although, it is uncomfortable, I am beginning to see that it has advantages and is something that I have needed for much longer than I would care to admit. That however, does not change the fact that the emotional stuff on the bus is what I am least looking forward to during our pilgrimage.
I have never been to the South and as a result, I have never had an opportunity to experience being immersed in the Southern culture I have heard so much about. I mostly hear negative opinions about the South, but here and there brilliance has shined through the reports I have received. I am hoping that our short time will broaden my perspective about a people and a place I have never experienced firsthand. I do so loath forming opinions about subjects based on other people’s perspectives; it feels too much like rumors too me to fully trust.
With a host of friends, I will have the opportunity to meet some of the people who fought and won some of the rights we have today, and that many take for granted. I will get to listen to their stories firsthand, be able to feel their emotions, see their expressions, and share new and old experiences with people that I look up to and will stand with if the opportunity ever arises. We will be exploring the South for a little more than a week, getting a crash course in challenging the government and culture, seemingly against all odds. The harsh reality is that many were lost during the struggle and so that will be part of the learning as well, as some of those horrible stories are relived. But, we cannot forget the stories and the lives of those who gave so much to ensure a brighter future. All of this will inform and shape how I make decisions in the future and I am going down there with space prepared in both my mind and heart, so that I can carry as much back with me as is humanly possible.
Today we are confronted with a form of segregation and apartheid that is similar, but at the same time vastly different from Jim Crow because in the mid-20th century, the segregation was up-front and in people’s faces, but today it is behind fences and cement walls. The language that is used to justify the system of oppression has also evolved, but the feelings that gird them have remained somewhat consistent, however hidden them may seem to be. Challenging the system and the ideologies also seems to have changed because as the people have learned from the Civil Rights Era, so has the government and the people in power who wish for the system to remain the way it is; who protect the status quo. Our identities are much easier to track down and our relations much easier to flesh out today than in the 1960s because of the advent of social media so, it is not as easy to remain off the radar of programs or organizations like the COINTELPRO or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), respectively. However, the risks do not seem very much different than what the people we are going to meet were faced with, namely, restrictions on their life, liberty, and quality of life. I am hoping to learn how they managed to keep up their strength and dedication in light of the omnipresent, impending doom that always loomed right around the corner. I would love to learn just how they were able to motivate people and how they were able to overcome the petty difference that arose between the people. I especially want to learn how they addressed the class issues both within and without the Black communities they engaged with and how they were able to reconcile those differences.
To accomplish learning these things it will require that I neither, climb into my social shell, nor that I cling to it, but instead that I set it aside and expose myself to the uncomfortable emotional and intellectual experiences on the bus and at our stops along the way. Otherwise, I will not be able to engage in the conversations where such questions may be asked and lessons learned. It is a small price to invest to gain access to a wellspring of knowledge and wisdom. Who knows, I may even make a few life-long friends along the way and stretch my conception of community all the way to Alabama after this trip.
Start from the assumption that people are well meaning and intentioned, do not jump to conclusions without first asking or discovering what the intended conclusions were/are. If it is discovered that their intentions are just, and are informed that their means will not achieve just ends, they may be open to amend their means so as to achieve a more just outcome. If their intentions are not just and the outcome is not just then the person or group can and ought to be held responsible for their actions, punished if necessary, but excluded from full participation in the community with all the relevant privileges until such time that the harms is rectified and the relationships have been brought to reconciliation. Either way, by assuming honorable and just intentions we do not unfairly attribute blame and harm upon those who mean well while contending in an uncertain world; that would prove to cause more harm to the community than good.
Those who will openly conceal their true intentions will not only be more trustworthy, but will reveal themselves to the desirable community members. However, those who seek to conceal their true intentions will tend to have motivations in opposition to the health and sustainability of the community. Knowing their intentions would reveal that they do not belong in the community and are thus hoping to free-ride on the agreement and compliance of others at the cost and the risk of the community.
The universe, the one song, the true harmony of existence, is a balance maintained by gravitational and repulsive forces which permit, enhance, and are sustained by the flow and transfer of energy between bodies and essences.
During this period of reflection some of the lessons I learned while I was a priest have been revisiting my mind; namely, that Jesus often secluded himself from his disciples and other people to ground himself in the truth. The lesson that is echoing from this for me is that he felt the need to be acutely sure that his motives and intentions that would lead to his actions were in alignment with his beliefs. In my particular case, this pertains to what I believe to be morally right, not just for today, but well into the future. The world we enjoy the pleasure of existing on today has been loaned to us by our progeny, i.e., it is not our world to destroy. Therefore, my decisions and actions should respect what does not belong to me, but I am not always certain of this. I am also not always certain that my actions serve the greater good of our people here and now. To move forward ignorantly, without regrounding myself in the truth, couched in my belief in what is morally right is dangerous not only to myself, but others as well.
Reflection, self-appraisal, and purification are vitally important for the work and the workers who are actively engaged in striving for a better, just, and lovable world community.
Lots of people want to make claims about how good or bad some event, statement, person, or action is and the impact they think it or they will have on the movement for justice and achieving freedom from oppression, but I am not so sure that anyone truly knows the impact of any one particular thing. It sure does lead to a lot of energy spent bickering with each other and not being focused on the major problems at hand. For better or worse, it does seem that everything comes together for a reason. I think that as long as we keep our eyes on the prize of achieving liberation, then liberation is what we will have.
It is both permissible and healthy that unjust acts cause dissatisfaction to arise in my heart, but anger only serves to cloud my judgment and reason forestalling a rational and strategic response on my part, which would have otherwise led me to discover and materialize a satisfactory resolution to the problem.
It makes it hard to trust even people from within our own communities sometimes when this country trains people to be cutthroats to survive. But, because we want to believe in our people we lower our defenses and give them the benefit of the doubt, hoping against hope that this time we will not be burned, doing our best not to guilt them with the harms done by others in the past. There is goodness in everyone’s heart, no matter how hard it is to find, it is there nonetheless. The question is; do we have the desire to find it and to draw it out if need be? Because they may also not be used to exposing their vulnerability in this violent world, so used to being burned by others. We have to make ourselves trustworthy as well. One person, one heart at a time we can pull apart this faulty system of indoctrination to establish a new tribe of humanity.