Want Peace? Work for Justice.

Written By: Charles - Mar• 21•21

Ostara and the Ovid Moon of Metamorphoses

Sunday gratefuls: Justice. Ancient ones. Kate’s up. Snow coming. And, then, again. And, maybe, again. Living in the Mountains. Planning to stay. At least today. Billions, a TV show available on Amazon Prime Video. Korea. India. My beautiful and much loved Asians, Joseph and Seo-Ah.

Sparks of Joy: Vaccines. Seasonal change underway.

Justice, justice. If you want peace, work for justice. Justice has been a key driver in my life. It was the topic of conversation this morning among the Ancient Friends: Tom Crane, William Schmidt (most Ancient), Paul Strickland, Mark Odegard, and myself.

As I thought about it, I wondered where I got my ideas of justice, why does it burn so in my heart? My mother loved everyone she met. Or, at least my 17 year old self thought so. Then, she died. I’ve since learned that ever her version of love could be disfigured by prevailing prejudice. In particular the one in the 1950’s that found only shame in teen and/or unmarried pregnancy. That’s a side trip so I won’t go into detail right now. But my heart, the one shaped by her until she died, had love everyone imprinted upon it.

I didn’t, of course. I made fun of a Down’s Syndrome girl at school. Then, because I felt guilty (as I should have), I walked over to her house and apologized to her and her mother. Even so, the germ of condemning difference lived in me. And, still does.

Part of justice, an important, but insufficient part, lies in recognizing our own propensity to use second characteristics like level of wealth, skin color, country of origin, language, degree of hygiene as markers for a deeper truth about an individual. For example, just because racism might seem to allow it in the hearts of liberal/radical Americans, white trash is not an acceptable epithet.

So, a first step toward justice lies in owning our complicity, our own tendency to make assumptions about others, then act on those assumptions when we make decisions about friends, marriage, selection for a grade school baseball team, voting for elected officials, where we take our business. Choices that determine the shape and vitality of our communities, our lives need examination by an inner gatekeeper that asks the question, why this choice? Why this friend? Why this grocery store? Why this bike shop? Why this country to visit? Why this candidate?

Another, next level step toward justice, recognizes the myriad ways in which our culture (and, others, we didn’t invent the -isms) tilts itself toward certain groups and away from others. Mass incarceration of people of color far outside their percentage representation in the population. A criminal justice system that puts a thumb on the scales of justice for a Black offender, a Latinx offender, and lifts that same thumb for white offenders. The recent killing of six Asian women in Atlanta is an excellent example. “He was having a bad day,” said the police chief.

Many folks, perhaps most, stop here. They examine themselves and try to act in a just manner. They recognize the unjust nature of our education, health care, and military institutions. And, they decry it. They may even go to the length of choosing a Senator, or President because they promise action on these evils. And, as my buddy Paul might say, “Good on’em.”

Another, harder step takes you to the next level beyond personal recognition and recognizing bigotry and prejudice as part of the warp and woof our society. At this level you start trying for change. This is where If you want peace, work for justice aims you.

Working for change can be hard. You have moved beyond the personal to the systemic. No longer can you work on yourself only, but you must work on the system itself. This requires others. Education, health care, criminal justice, poverty, religious bigotry have roots.

Here’s a personal example. When my then wife, Raeone Buckman, and I bought a house in the Cooper neighborhood of Minneapolis, I got out the actual deed to the property and read through it. Just because. “No Jew or Negro may purchase this house.” Yes, a codicil on that deed. Words to that affect.

Thankfully the 1964 Civil Rights Act nullified that poisonous declaration. But consider, 1964! I was already 17 in 1964. My mother died that year. In other words, pretty recent. Until 1964 realtors could have used such a covenant to steer families of color to other locations. If pressed, they could say, well, we really can’t look in that area. Cooper was still pretty white when Raeone and I moved in.

Think about this. Those covenants, and they were very common across the U.S., got cozy with redlining and concentrated Jews in ghettos, Blacks in the same. 1964. Shakes head. Slaps forehead. Says, Jesus!

As a result elementary schools, which drew from the neighborhood, reflected those covenants. Police were much more likely to patrol 35th and Chicago than 41st and Lake where I lived. Why? Because a large Black community lives in and around 35th and Chicago. In Chicago many housing projects found police, paramedics, and other first responders refused to enter. Because they didn’t feel safe.

Pick up one of these threads. Segregated schools. Slow emergency response, too eager arrests, a lack of affordable housing. Look at it. Find an organization that has remedying that problem. Volunteer. Put your heart and body into it. Not a panacea. Doesn’t make you righteous, but it does mean you’ve gone beyond an individual response to a community oriented one.

Last step I’ll mention here though the Stairway to Heaven has way more than four. Get political. Yes, get your hands on the sausage. Elect candidates who want police reform, who want affordable housing for all. Go deeper. Organize with others to get delegates to caucuses, conventions elected. These delegates choose candidates, set party platforms. This is the party political step.

There are others. Become a member of a radical political group. Become a white ally to a Black organization, like Black Lives Matter. Work to build a different set of assumptions about all humanity. You can do it. But, you have to start.

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