Let’s un-domesticate the MLK holiday

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed MLK Day. Ronny Reagan went down as the President signing the idea into a law in 1983 (first observed in 1986) after half a million people marched on Washington – even though the first draft of the bill was submitted to Congress four days after his assassination in 1968. I think in some ways it’s still a bit ironic for the US (of all countries) to celebrate such a radical who might be best remembered for galvanizing and leading a movement fighting systemic injustice waged by the same, largely unmoved government. The cunning empire, of course, loves to embrace a sentimental and sanitized version – and why not throw an American flag in there, too? 

For many of you reading this, the years I already mentioned may seem like ancient history – or at least during a different world. It wasn’t for another dozen years after his speech at Riverside Church in NYC 365 days before his murder that King delivered the famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech (text and audio here). Among other profundities, he declared “Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

I didn’t know Martin and know very few people who ever even met him. For such a public figure, for a martyr, for a legacy – I think we need to keep learning and trying to finish the work King began. This year we should be celebrating his 86th birthday. Instead we are fighting to supply meaning to a holiday that the state would like us to believe is a marker of progress. I am psyched that a bunch of Circle of Hope leaders – particularly Sara and the rest of the Compassion Core –  are trying to make something special of it this year. Here are three ways to get into it.

Prayer

Don’t pretend for a second that the man and the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s were not soaking in prayer or centered on Jesus. We already have ten people signed up to keep it going for 24hrs on the holiday. Want to add to the growing list? Sign up here.

Solidarity

It’s easier to remember quotes from speeches than it is to march. There are already almost 1,000 FB users RSVP’d to get out to the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment March (press release for non FB users here). I think ending “stop & frisk,” a $15 minimum wage, and fully funded and democratically run school systems are all good enough reasons to shut down Broad St then Market streets for a few hours. Don’t you?

Imagining

We schedule 60min per month for the Leadership Team and others interested to stoke our collective fire at the Imaginarium. This time we’re finalizing Circle of Hope’s 2015 Map. Action, Resistance, and Empowerment must extend beyond one day. I think being part of the church is a great way to keep it going.

Soft-hearted dialogue during Ferguson & KXL

Ferguson-Protesters-SignsThe Michael Brown story and grand jury convening on whether to charge Officer Darren Wilson could come to a head tomorrow. For many people, this is just another day and another story that will dominate headlines for a few days. For others – especially African Americans – this case means much more. Is Ferguson is a microcosm of race relations in the US? Could it be white supremacy that’s actually on trial? Could this case mean that it is OK to shoot black men as long as you have some sort of reason?

This case gets at some important questions for those with faith in Jesus. Where is Christ in the situation? How do those who hunger and thirst for righteousness & justice speak and stand? Are we in danger of getting swept up by a media machine that causes unhelpful distrust for authorities and takes us into an ignorant and emotional mob mentality?

kkk leaderI wonder why both riot cops and the National Guard were deployed to Ferguson during protests. I wonder why the KKK threatens protesters (they call them terrorists in their “warning”). I wonder why Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency. There is something bigger than just this case going on right now. The trend of questionable police killings of young people of color continues – here are some snippets about 13 in the month after Michael Brown.

As a Christian I don’t expect the criminal justice system, courts, or laws to bring justice. True justice comes through the Kingdom of God. In this moment of such great outcry by our black sisters and brothers, how can we not listen? I think God hears them and cares. I think the more of us that care and speak up and act out, the more incremental steps we can make toward the protection of the next generation.

While this grand jury decision is a watershed moment – don’t sleep on Obama’s immigration speech KXL nativestonight (could grant legal status to 5 million undocumented folks) or the significant defeat/postponement of the Keystone XL pipeline. The majority of people affected by these decisions are poor as well as Latino or Native, so many white Americans see the economic ramifications and possibilities before family or land issues. Let’s change our hearts.

After a surprisingly spirited discussion on my Facebook wall this week that included Christian Anarchists, Black Women, a Catholic Policeman, atheists, conservative Anabaptists, and others, I’m inspired but a little discouraged. I’m inspired because I think there is work to be done and I have relationships with people beyond the “choir” that I might prefer to “preach” to over social media. I’m discouraged because I think for every friend I argue with, there are at least ten who agree with them but don’t engage directly.

Having dialogue when the fabric of society comes under question (is the US founded on Christian values or on white supremacy?) is important to have, especially with people who don’t agree with you. When we get stuck not listening or merely defending our fixed position on an issue, I think we all lose. Sometimes I’m not sure I have enough out-of-the-box stuff to get people listening to those suffering and marginalized. Some white folks listen because it’s en vogue or duty. If Jesus doesn’t touch us and change our hearts, will enough people will make the intellectual leap in time enough to stop atrocities that are being waged? When I’m praying for these situations, I’m praying for Jesus to touch hearts – including my own – to make us soft enough to feel the pain and move with the Spirit to keep restoring what’s broken.

Three signs of soft solidarity at the dawn of the last Columbus Day

Just in time for Monday’s federal holiday, Seattle decided to celebrate something else, joining Minneapolis at big US cities to get this right by re-naming the holiday “Coast Salish Day” and Indigenous People’s Day, respectively. Are we more surprised by cities making this move or that more haven’t yet? How is this still a thing?

After all, aside from the catastrophic results of contact for 10’s of millions of natives, didn’t Colon basically start a trend of “discovering” things for white people? If you need another funny video to keep you engaged – check out College Humor’s take on “Columbusing.”

If you are moved to make steps towards healing our land and people, you might be moving toward solidarity. Particularly for white liberals – especially Evangelical Christians – solidarity is becoming more normative, at least in theory. It takes a lot of work to move solidarity from your heart or head and allow God to use it for transformation. It’s cheaper and easier to have a “soft solidarity,” one that makes you feel good/aware/informed but doesn’t transform yet. I offer three warning signs of soft solidarity, and some suggestions for how to allow the Spirit to beef it up to a solidarity that both parties experience.

When solidarity doesn’t lead to connection, it’s probably soft. When we pray at the Circle of Hope sunday Meetings, we are trying to help people make connections and follow up. Prayer is a powerful tool to connect with God, one another, and people far away as well as change hearts. Praying for Pakistani victims of drone warfare is good. Telling the story about the prayer, learning, and even trying to find Pakistani people in your neighborhood or online to make a relationship with is even better.

When solidarity doesn’t lead you to uncomfortable situations among people who don’t get it yet, it’s probably too soft. As a non-native of this land as well as not having African ancestors within the past few 1,000 years, learning from my native and black friends, teachers, musicians, and authors has been healing for me. It’s a privilege for me to be able to talk about race, land rights, colonialism, or restitution with my friends of color. It’s a responsibility to continue these conversations with white people who haven’t listened to non-white voices yet. For those of us who “cross over,” we have to do more than represent the exotic or be a proxy for oppressed voices. We don’t need to build bridges, we need to help put people in direct contact and show them how the bridge doesn’t even exist – we are way closer to a connection than they might think.

When solidarity is an accessory to your narcissism, it’s definitely too soft. For progressives, particularly millennials, you have been conditioned to do this already, so un-learning is going to take some work. Buying a keffiyeh doesn’t make you down with the Palestinian cause. Waxing intellectual, playing authentic delta blues on guitar, blasting Immortal Technique, or borrowing cultural elements from other peoples does not do anything for anyone else – unless it’s part of something bigger.

If you are still wondering about whether changing the name makes a difference – of the holiday or the football team, consider these thoughtful anecdotes from native activists. You may feel more sympathy for the Italian Americans who may feel slighted that Columbus is getting bumped, for Columbus himself as a hero and great Christian, or for the system itself for not being able to be just or accommodating to everyone.

In the video you see Migizi Pensoneau of The 1491s wearing the infamous Caucasians t-shirt, mocking the Cleveland Indians logo -designed by Brian Kirby but made famous by DJ NDN of A Tribe Called Red. Migizi wrote a heartfelt piece going behind the scenes of the Daily Show shoot for the Missoula Independent here. I think this should be the last Columbus Day anyone celebrates because the holiday reinforces & celebrates lies and myths that support a system of genocidal thievery against my friends & relatives. Changing the name is a step towards making connections that need to be made. I sense Jesus moving us into SOLIDarity, where mutual connection, care, and support transforms everyone involved and faces off with the Powers That Be. The more connections you make, the more sense it will make that your friends & relatives rub off some cultural elements/values/hopes on you.