Towards the Beloved Community

Welcome to my blog. Here I offer posts commenting on events and issues in the United States in the hope that they might stimulate thoughts about and work for social justice.

I believe that one of the most important developments of the last decade has been a resurgent interest in the concept of social justice advanced by the early civil rights movement: the beloved community. This concept is alive in the Poor Peoples’ Campaign [LINK], the Movement for Black Lives [LINK], and in many multi-racial community empowerment efforts around the country today such as the 55 amazing organizations affiliated with the Center for Popular Democracy [LINK].

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explained the beloved community many times, most famously in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963.  Social justice, he said, refers to relationships between people that uplift everyone to realize their full potential as human beings. Mutuality lies at the core of this concept: every person must recognize and actively support the humanity of everyone else, especially of those who are dehumanized by oppression and exploitation if everyone is to be uplifted. No one can escape their responsibilities to one another, King explained. “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny.”

The concept of the beloved community is not a dream for a utopian future: this duty to build relationships based on love for one another must be lived every day by those demanding social justice now, because only this practice can give birth to a just society. It was this understanding in particular that motivated the formation of the Student Non-Violent Organizing Committee (SNCC) in 1960.[LINK] One of its most inspirational leaders, Ella Baker, taught a generation of activists that oppressed people can make history if they understand their own power, that what matters is the quality of relationships among the people experiencing oppression, and what organizers can do is support the strengthening of community ties and the emergence of trusted leaders from these communities [LINK]. Over the last half a century, two generations of activists learned how to connect grassroots community power to electoral and law-making power.

The beloved community can only fully exist in a society that is built on the economic, political and cultural practices that support all people’s capacity to uplift their humanity,. i.e. practices that are not oppressive and exploitative. Dr. King often noted the incompatibility of capitalism with social justice. But social equality does not define social justice; it is a condition for it.  As Dr. King put it in 1966, “I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life….the creation of the beloved community.”

Building the beloved community requires clear-eyed and principled opposition to every act that oppresses rather than uplifts human beings. Anger at oppression and exploitation of human beings is not a betrayal of love: it is in fact an important component of love itself. The purpose of such anger is not the denial of anyone’s humanity; indeed, the anger motivated by the defense of peoples’ humanity allows the possibility for redemption even by those who have oppressed others.

I write these posts in an effort to operationalize this concept of social justice in the face of the cascade of crises that we face today. Just months before the end of his too short life in 1968, Dr. King posed a question: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community?”  In 2021, this question still carries its power. The United States today is a nation sharply divided between those living in the future and those desperately trying to hold on to the fading past of white supremacy. The 2020 election proved without a doubt that America is at the cusp of the third effort in its brief history to reconstruct itself.

The United States has been brought to this moment by generations of social justice activists who refused to give in white supremacy. From the long struggle against Jim Crow from 1877 until 1965, from the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and 1980s to the fights for immigrant rights and the efforts to defend affirmative action and voting rights in the 1990s, activists achieved a growing understanding of the intersections of race, class an gender in all social justice movements, an understanding that radicalized each movement (including the women’s movement, the LGBTQI movement,  the environmental movement and the labor movement) and gave them greater possibilities for coordinated action. Activists also learned from long and often bitter experience the possibilities and limits of electoral and legal victories, and the fundamental importance of building movements based on grassroots power.  In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, a resurgent movement for immigrant and refugee rights and the election of the nation’s first African American President began to have a real impact on national politics.

The First Reconstruction after the Civil War was stopped by the formation of the white dictatorship of Jim Crow racism. The Second Reconstruction was largely stalled by the Republican Party’s harnessing white rage in the 1970s against the emerging assertion of humanity by people of color, women and LGBTQI people in the freedom movements of the 1960s.  A similar motion is going on today: the emerging reality of a multi-racial, multi-cultural American majority has been met by a desperate effort supported by the majority of white voters to prevent the reconstruction of this country yet again. This white nationalist movement, which has taken over the Republican Party that nurtured it for the last fifty years, has demonstrated its willingness to abandon all pretense of democracy with its widespread support for the January 6, 2020 insurrection against the government fomented by the President of the United States.  

But as fierce as the white nationalist resistance has been, movements for social justice have doggedly persisted in their long work of organizing and encouraging people to rise up for justice. And we are winning. Even in the midst of the nightmare of the Trump era, a major step towards the reconstruction of the South made headway, symbolized by the removal of Confederate statues throughout the region. And even the electoral defeats of progressives in 2016 and 2018 did not deter the ongoing efforts to organize and mobilize minorities and progressive whites in places like Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, efforts that led to the decisive 2020 victories in these states and nationally.

And so here we are, a nation still at war with itself: a powerful white nationalist Republican Party with a fascist tendency within its ranks, and powerful multi-racial social justice movements rooted in Black and Latinx communities and led by women that succeeded in driving the Republican Party from national power in 2020.  Today, we are a nation brought to its knees by the cascading crises of fascism, structural racism, hyper-inequality, environmental destruction and Covid-19, a nation poised to remake itself but also a nation where fantasies of white supremacy and American world domination still endure.

So where do we go from here? We keep playing the long game that has brought us to this point. We continue to insist as so many generations before us have that America can be a nation that recognizes and supports the humanity of all its citizens and recognizes its global responsibilities to promote social justice for all. We continue to fiercely oppose every effort to degrade and dehumanize people in prisons, on the streets, in schools, in workplaces, in their homes, on the border and overseas. We understand that war and the poisoning of our planet degrade and endanger us all. We continue to believe in the redemptive possibilities of the present, and we continue to demand the reparative actions that alone can heal the deep wounds borne out of the long history of oppression and exploitation. We keep going for the simple reason that our own humanity—our own capacity for love—demands that we do so. We keep going because we long for freedom. And we keep going because we have the confidence that the arc of history bends towards justice if we have the courage to make it so.

The posts you will find here endeavor to embody this understanding of social justice and the history of the United States.  The task before us today continues to be the reconstruction of America. Our America is a long time coming.  Many generations of Americans have given their all to give birth to it. Let us continue the hard labor, not as a sacrifice for the future, but out of the knowledge that doing so is the realization of the beloved community and our places within it today.

To view the posts, simply click on the menu at the top of this page. Feel free to share these posts, and feel free to leave me comments.