These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men [sic] are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions....
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. … When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr. from “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence”
I reread “Beyond Vietnam” on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I try to read it at least once a year. It's a remarkable speech that brings together the civil rights and anti-war movements and names the “triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism” as the foundation of injustice against which revolutionary love serves as the redress.
Reading the speech again reminded me of Cornel West's statement that "justice is what love looks like in public." And it reminded me that revolutionary love is the fierce antidote to injustice.
The rewards of systems of injustice built on war, supercharged capitalism, and white supremacy, in the end, are hollow ones: comfort built from the abuse of others, the accumulation of things, the ability to commit or condone violence with impunity, participation in the lie of being "better than." Though those of us with privilege can walk through our days in an arrogant fog of detachment, the costs are high: numbness and disconnection, a severing from the experience and truth of so many.
White supremacy sticks to folks, gets under the skin, corrupts from within. Although we are all infected by it, for some (like me as a white person) it is more deeply embedded in my tissues. As umi selah said, "White supremacy is a disease, recalcitrant, resistant to treatment, highly contagious."
Love and real community are revolutionary medicine. When we get connected to each other, when we taste the fruit of liberation and love, when we commit our lives to the work of repair, it starts us down a road toward freedom.
I experienced this medicine recently in a protest in Philadelphia in response to the year-long cover up of the murder by police of LaQuan McDonald in Chicago and the shooting of protestors by espoused white supremacists in Minneapolis.
We started the march in North Philadelphia at an intersection. We stopped the traffic, and one organizer said she was tired. Her feet hurt. She'd been marching for a year, in 40 marches in response to police killings, and she was tired of it, enraged that black folks keep getting killed by the police.
Another woman asked for the megaphone. She said that six years ago her son was killed by the cops. She protested and asked for an inquiry, but was met with silence. In that circle, in the middle of North Philadelphia with the police pressing against us, she released the grief, the terror of a mother whose son had been killed and who had been given the message that his life didn't matter. We held her, we listened to her story, and we deepened our commitment. As the police pressed against us with their bicycles, we marched on. She walked with us.
We walked past Temple University, through the African American neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. People came out of their houses and took our fliers. Some joined us and many expressed appreciation for our presence.
We turned on Cecil B. Moore Avenue and walked into the side streets of the neighborhood. We ended at a five-point intersection. The organizers spoke of the violence of gentrification, the connection of structural violence and state violence. She and others read the names of over 1,000 people killed by police in the last year. We mourned, we grieved, we witnessed. I was moved by the determined circle of activists I have gotten to know who have the courage to keep getting out on the streets and challenging us all to work, to shift things, to hold governments accountable.
On the streets I wake up to revolutionary love, to the kind of fierce love out of which liberation is built. In honoring those who have died unjust deaths, I awaken to a deeper commitment to life.
These activists in Philly, and Black Lives Matter activists all over the country, have a fierce love, a willingness to hold us all without letting go until our humanity emerges again, until we remember that human connection and the beloved community are what we are born for. It is all of our birthright.
We ended as we always do, with the chant by Assata Shakur:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love and support one another.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.