Can't Fix Everything?

What Do We Do Now, Dr. King? part 3

A Few Questions Not Entirely Political, Jeanne Lohmann, 1990s

Slamming into us, the wind
pushed our placards off the iron railing
outside the federal building

Wanting words I could stand by
these made me uneasy; a strident facile blame,
the public appeal to guilt.

After the vigil, riding home on the bus
I try to resist a temptation to sadness.
The precarious balancing act of our lives
leave much undone. By not so much as the weight
of one raindrop could we lessen the misery of the world.

A fat passenger settling into the next plush seat
squeezes me close to the window. I feel like a fugitive,
the questions from my faithful and radical friends
spinning the tires on the rainslick freeway:
what rouses us, finally? Why choose Bosnia
and fail Guatemala? Why no attention
to years of massacre in El Salvador?
Why relief for Somalia and not the Sudan?
Chechnya? China? Cuba?

We could name other places always.
And closer home there's politics to consider.
Choices. The terrible complex dilemmas.

We can't fix everything.

But how do we answer each other
or the starving and tortured,
the broken and passed-over, the children
whose cries didn't reach us
or came from the wrong place, wrong time
and were never loud enough?
* * *

We need not fight about what is really the main issue that needs attention.

My issue is the important one!

No, MY issue is more important!

We don’t have to do that, because we share one vision. In this vision, we love our Earth, protect its resources, live harmoniously and sustainably. In this vision, we also share those resources equitably. Everyone gets health care, quality education, food, and adequate housing, access to jobs. In this vision, diversity is honored and respected: cultural diversity, ethnic diversity.

In this vision, freedoms are cherished and protected from discrimination against their exercise: freedom to choose pregnancy and parenthood, freedom to marry who you love, and live with who you like, freedom to go to the bathroom that corresponds to your gender identity.

We may differ in the details, but that general vision represents the consensus of Unitarian Universalists and a lot of other people. Some people might focus on environmental and climate issues, others on LGBT issues, or income inequality and poverty and class issues, or housing, or education, or war and peace, or species extinction and animal abuse, or issues affecting blacks and women. But we all working for the vision.

The injustices that we seek to dismantle are interlinked. We need not reach agreement on the one keystone injustice and go after it because systems of oppression intersect and overlap, and opening up the space of justice in any area makes it easier to open others. This is the insight that goes by the name intersectionality. When congregations feel torn between whether to focus on racial justice or climate change, military drone use or affordable housing, it is helpful to remember the intersectionality.

Peace requires justice, and justice requires peace. Peace and justice help enable environmental stewardship just as environmental stewardship helps enable peace and justice. Neighboring colleague Rev. Peggy Clarke, who serves the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Hastings, wrote in the Huffington Post a couple years ago:
"The rationale that led to slavery and colonization and the deprivation of humans at various times in history is the same thought process leading to the destruction of earth. It is the framework that suggests everything is in service to the dominant class.... Our current American paradigm allows one group to exploit another. The paradigmatic assumption is that women are in service to men, that the poor are in service to the rich, that people of color are in service to white people, that Earth and all her species are in service to humans. Privilege has been conferred on the dominant group and that dominance is maintained by our legal, cultural, religious, educational, economic, political, environmental and military institutions. It is this same assumption of dominance that created and supported slavery, that committed genocide on the indigenous people of this continent, that institutionalized the repression of women for centuries and that has also approached Earth with a power-over mentality." (Rev. Peggy Clarke, Huffington Post)
Ultimately there is a single wound: the disconnection and pain of dominance and inequality. Thus, whether we are marching for peace, for racial justice, or for reducing carbon emissions, we are marching for the same healing vision of a fair and caring world.

It's true that a single human being can't attend all the meetings of all the activist groups, so follow the calling of your heart. What is your passion?

If your passion is organizing for action on climate change, you’re working for the vision. If you feel good lobbying legislators for Planned Parenthood, you’re working for the vision. If you’re at the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, you’re working for the vision. If you write letters for Amnesty International, you’re working for the vision. If you advocate for reforms to reduce the corruption of our democratic process, you’re working for the vision. If you march for raising the minimum wage, you’re working for the vision. Your friends who choose other activities than you do are -- if it’s part of dismantling any form oppression, replacing any form of dominance with equality, reducing violence anywhere -- also working for the vision. We don’t have to all do it in the same way.

Here at Community UU at White Plains, we’ve got 7 Social Justice Teams – and sign-up sheets are in the foyer. Economic Justice, Environmental Practices, Hunger & Homeless, LGBTQIA, Racial Justice, Refugee Resettlement, Women’s Issues. If you’re not in one, pick one and sign-up. We don’t have to all do it the same way.

In fact, we need to NOT do it all the same way. We need to diversify our efforts, think about picking lesser publicized causes. A lot of us were shook up by the Paris bombing in 2015, and it got a lot of attention. Meanwhile, other terrorist attacks of a similar magnitude in browner parts of the world got less attention. Those were real people, too.

Just work for justice, all the time.

The poet asks:
“How do we answer each other
Or the starving and tortured,
The broken and passed-over, the children
Whose cries didn’t reach us
Or came from the wrong place, wrong time
And were never loud enough?”
Just work for justice, all the time. You won’t get caught caring about today’s crisis but not yesterday’s if you were out caring about ending dominance and violence in some way every day. Each of these activities supports the others. Keep your lamp trimmed and burning, and bring your light to the areas that aren’t getting so much. Let others take their lamps to places you can’t get to. Together we can approach the vision. And anyway: What else you gonna do with your life?

* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "What Do We Do Now, Dr. King?"
See also
Part 1: What Do We Do Now, Dr. King?
Part 2: MLK: Feeling Our Way

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