There is no irony for me today, no sense of amusement that our recognized Inauguration Day falls today on the same Monday when we honor the life and recognize the too-early death of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yesterday, in our congregation, we sang this anthem and spent a time considering not just its historical significance but also how far we still have to go before we can truly say that all men and women are free in this country.
Too often in the last few weeks have I heard that we are all entitled to keep our guns, that the KKK would not have been controlled without them. And yet, I have come to realize the truth, so simply stated and yet so lost in the mists of time, that without them slavery would have ended before the Declaration of Independence was signed by rich white men who made decisions on behalf of other rich white men.
Given our past year’s worth of revelations, I am sad to say that so little has changed.
I can boil our country’s problems down to keywords. I don’t have to talk about them. I only have to say their names and you will know what I am talking about. That is the awesome and terrible power of the Internet and of the media. From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook, from Aurora to Afghanistan, Algeria, Syria and Israel. From Pakistan to Palestine, there is great injustice in the world, but no less great than right here in the good old U. S. of A.
Selma, Montgomery, Memphis, Jackson, Birmingham and Atlanta stand as just a few reminders of our country’s dark past – one I don’t share except by the color of my skin, because my family did not arrive in Brooklyn, NY until the turn of the last century. Although I don’t share that past, I am no less appalled. Rather, I am learning to make changes so that we can truly fulfill our potential as leaders in democracy and freedom for all.
Today, we have a new form of slavery – just as despicable and yet so little recognized that we prefer to think of THEM and justify all sorts of horrible things because of our obviously European roots. The “war on drugs,” rights to gun ownership, arguments against affirmative action, public school access – these all have a common thread of race that ties them together and keeps our classes apart.
Public schools have become prisons designed to indoctrinate instead of inspiring our children to do better. We want our children to toe the line, to become polite, subservient cogs in the machinery of our corporate system. We eject those who fail to fit, forcing most into what amounts to a lifetime of slavery. We should be appalled at the statistics, not just of the prison populations but of the total number of people we lose every year to violence in general.
In Australia, after a mass shooting in 1996 led to sweeping gun ownership reforms, the University of Sidney launched a web site which I discovered yesterday in response to a conversation on Facebook about gun ownership. The conversation started with this image:
But it didn’t end there, because a friend posted a link to gun homicides in the US, thinking (I assume) that was the end of the discussion. The fact is, his numbers are deceptive because they ignore all the OTHER deaths by gun in this country and elsewhere. It’s a sad testament to the power of the National Rifle Association that we have to go outside our country to find accurate statistics for gun violence.
From their own web site: “GunPolicy.org is hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, the University of Sydney. The School provides internationally recognised leadership in public health by advancing and disseminating knowledge — in this case, supporting global efforts to prevent gun injury.”
The Unitarian Universalists have launched a new campaign: Thirty Days of Love. The movement calls for us to think about mass incarceration not just to take criminals off our streets, but as an opportunity to see WHO is being swept into prison and the effect imprisonment has on our country.
On August 28, 1963, a little over two months before I was born, Rev. King gave his “I have a dream” speech, not quite 15 miles from where I live now. It saddens me to know that we still have so far to go to achieve Rev. King’s dream.
President Barack Obama took the oath of office yesterday, so that he can carry on the work he began four years ago. There is still a great deal to do, so long as there are still people who think of him as “uppity” and unfit for office simply because of the color of his skin. I don’t often pray, and seldom to god, but I will pray that the people in this country and elsewhere learn to understand and savor our differences and to choose responsibility over prejudice.
We have a long way to go.