Social Justice (don’t shoot the messengers), the grand experiment of Yes We Can

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Cross posted at  KOS

Social Justice. Some of us were introduced to the idea in church, appropriately because Jesus preached social justice. Altho social justice is an important theme in all major religions, some churches like the Catholic Church have offices of Social Justice. In deed the term was coined by a Jesuit priest in the mid 1800’s, based on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.  

It got a lot of press both good and bad in the 60’s when Jesuit priests preached social justice and organized the impoverished of South America. Social Justice is the heart of Liberation Theology and Black Liberation Theology.  Follow me below the fold for a little background on social justice, why shooting the messenger is counterproductive and oh yes, the grand experiment of YES WE CAN.

Social justice, the idea the best society is one where individuals and groups enjoy the fair treatment and the benefits of the society equally. Of course, we sometimes know that this isn’t always the case, which is why there are lawyers are there who can help make sure that people get fair treatment (you can read this article here for more information). Interestingly, depending on your political bent, your idea of a just society or equal society may differ. The philosophy of social justice is apolitical, politicizing it makes it something less. It becomes a means to serve some, not all as it is meant to be. We’ve seen a lot of politicized justice thru the years.

The Bill of Rights addresses quite eloquently the concepts of social justice important to our founding fathers. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness covered on the DOI, the protection of minority rights. Clearly the framers wanted to create a just society open to all, regardless of how imperfectly it has been applied.

Social justice requires a government  in making policies, to keep the needs of the poor and vulnerable at the forefront. It’s interesting how this can play out in reality because it doesn’t mean a huge welfare state. Social justice requires all human beings be treated with dignity and with equal opportunity to have all our society offers. Welfare devalues human beings and moves them even further from the benefits we enjoy.

Things like equal pay, minimum wage, affirmative action, women’s suffrage, choice, civil rights, gay rights, marriage equality, free school lunches, SCHIPS, free education K-12, affordable higher education, workers rights and labor unions,  United Nations, sentencing reform, anti-death penalty, work place safety, voter’s rights, immigration reforms, VISTA, Peace Corp, environmental protection, green economy, Food Stamps, child care deduction, Head Start, Pell Grants, Community Colleges, FDIC, universal health care, FMLA,  the New Deal, Social Security and Government backed home loans. This list is by no means complete and while some have been politicized, they all have at their heart Social Justice. These programs and ideals make a society livable for more and more citizens until eventually all individuals and groups enjoy equally the benefits of economic security, political rights, social rights and opportunities. This represents the America most of us would want.

We saw social justice in the programs of FDR and JFK. They were the messengers of change and social justice we found acceptable. Churches thru the years have been the most consistent groups pushing for social justice. Those messengers we do not like so much. We don’t like their words or their tone, but they work for all of us as surely as they work for the poor and vulnerable in their communities.

By now you should know about all the good work of Rev. Wright’s Church TUCC, what you may not know about is the work of the other messengers you have been encouraged to hate and discount.

Michael Pfleger  Jesuit trained Pfleger became the youngest full pastor in the diocese when he was appointed Pastor of Saint Sabina Church.  During his time there the church as evolved  to a full fledged African American church and he has worked to make Saint Sabina a vibrant and important part of the community.

The church and Reverend have been pivotal in helping transform Auburn Gresham, with new housing and store fronts opening up in the neighborhood. As of 2007, one the largest new single-family home developments in Chicago is nearing completion at W. 87th St. and S. Parnell Ave., in the southeast corner of Auburn Gresham. Auburn-Gresham is also home to the first urban S.O.S. Children’s Village in the U.S.

Please visit their website, they like Trinity use their resources to help the most vulnerable, the elderly, children, homeless, jobless, drug addicts, gang bangers, and prostitutes.  

From their website.

Father Pfleger received a special honor, when at the request of Mrs. Coretta Scott King, he was selected to be the keynote speaker for the national Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Service. This event was held on January 20, 2003, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia

He is not a light weight or crank, however over the top his speech at Trinity happened to be. Remember he was talking to proudly pro Obama crowd. Remember to, Trinity and St Sabina deal with racism every day trying to help the results of our prejudices take their rightful place in America. He is a much sought after, well respected voice in healing the racial divide and social justice for the disadvantaged.

On June 3 Michael Pfleger was removed from his parish St. Sabina, this will be a terrible blow to the community he served.

CBS 2 New has learned that Francis Cardinal George is temporarily removing Father Michael Pfleger from his position as pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side.

Among his friends is Louis Farrakhan, another messenger we have been encouraged to not only hate, but disregard, marginalize.

What few of us know about Farrakhan is his tireless work toward unity. His programs of self help address the disadvantaged of all races. The unity of the people who believe in one God, that would be Christians, Muslims and Jews. Seems odd when all you have heard about is he represents separatism and how he hates Jews. He blasts anyone who doesn’t live up to the ideals of their faith. He blasts this country too. There an article written by Farrakhan concerning the plight of the poor.

During the run up to the war in Iraq he traveled with a delegation of religious leaders and physicians to the Middle East. An effort to start a dialog among leaders of those nations, his hope was they could prevent the war. He along with other religious leaders tried to meet with Bush to explain what folly the war would be. Bush wasn’t interested. He has for years preached and encouraged black men to take responsibility for their families and communities, to work with other groups in similar positions like Hispanics and Native Americans and to help and support each other.

NOI programs of self reliance and self respect have reclaimed drug addicts, excons, prostitutes and gang bangers, helped them turn their lives around and become responsible citizens in their communities. NOI owns and operates Muhammad Farms. The farm has allowed them create food co-ops for the poor and the sale of  crops to provide money to build housing among other things. This investment goes back into the poorest communities. They have created jobs and job training. They support and encourage small minority businesses and have done much to give economic opportunities in the most depressed neighborhoods. Many people confuse NOI with Muslims world wide. NOI is a uniquely American faith adhering to a very few aspects of traditional Islam.

It is true Farrakhan is controversial, it is true he is anti-gay, it is true he has no time for any religious group who twists their beliefs to do harm in the world or purveyors of drugs and pornography. To get a better look at him read the interview with Donahue.  He certainly isn’t a saint but he isn’t the devil either. Discounting the good he does because you hate some of his positions is counter productive particularly when we use our hatred of HIM  to discount the good work of other churches because they dared to acknowledge Farrakhan’s very real contributions. These churches, these men work on the fringes of society, they work every day to lift up those we have forgotten. No matter how much we dislike their rhetoric, or how uncomfortable their words make us,  we owe them a debt of thanks. They are doing the work this country should have done generations ago.  

I know,  you find them insulting and blaming, maybe even a little racist themselves. You’ve never heard anything like that. Sorry, but a lot of you have. How quickly MLK has been sanitized and we forget his speeches about ending poverty and this country’s war mongering. Nope, probably wouldn’t have liked him much either. Social justice requires speaking truth to power and it is often ugly, hurtful and even polarizing. They are talking to and about people who have been significantly disadvantaged not for a few generations, which is itself unconscionable, but for centuries. Indulge me a little history and perhaps some perspective.

The first black men arrived in the Virginia Colony in 1619. A Dutch had taken about 20 black men from a Spanish ship they robbed. They then traded the men to the colony for food. By 1640 at least one of them was listed in the census as a slave. Declared and ordered by the court. They came to this country 389 years ago and 21 years later slavery against the black man had started. Over the next 223 years between 9 and 12 million Africans were bought to America as Slaves.  

The Emancipation Proclamation parts one and two didn’t really free blacks. Older voices condemned the proclamation because it never addressed the real need for racial reforms. For them it was about more than being free, it was about being truly equal.  The ratification of the 13th amendment which abolished slavery forever, but didn’t address equality. It would take the 15th Amendment to make voting a reality for all blacks. It was ratified in 1870, 8 years after they were given personhood, released from slavery and allowed to vote in the first place.They could vote and be counted as a whole person. Unfortunately, in the South Jim Crow was born and separate but equal became the norm. Stumbling blocks were put in place to make voting virtually impossible.  They would remain de facto slaves and even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t fix the voting problem.  

1964 is 44 years ago, well within the memory of large percentage of African Americans. They waited 323 years to be equal enough to participate in our society. Can you imagine the deep well of anger, pain and frustration 323 years creates? 323 years of having little or no say in their lives, 323 years of inferior education and inferior economic opportunities. 323 years of violence against their people, violence that continues. What changes have happened have happened slowly and racism is still alive and well in this country. Blacks are still fighting for equality, they fight for it today as hard as they fought 100 years ago.

For this to work, to move forward and reconciliation to have a chance, we must own our part. We must listen with compassion understanding, not judging or devaluing experiences. Trying to ignore 323 years like it didn’t happen because things are better will accomplish nothing and they earned the right to be heard.

I haven’t touched on Native Americans whose struggle is as long. After more than 200 years of genocide against them are now bring neglected to extinction. I cannot tell their story as eloquently as Winter Rabbit. Please read these diaries, they are the true experiences of the native people not taught in our history books.

Earned the right to be heard. This is true of all oppressed groups if we are to move toward reconciliation, we must not kill the messenger. Ignoring those voices, vilifying them and marginalizing them further only serves to make reconciliation harder and longer to accomplish. Reconciliation is about forgiveness on both sides, we have to forgive each other and ourselves.  And we have much to do.  

And finally the grand experiment of YES WE CAN. Once upon a time there was a man who believed in the empowerment of the masses and what those masses could accomplish. It is the belief at the center of Obama’s campaign. Regardless of what he says about the impact of Rev. Wright and attending TUCC, it raised his social consciousness. Working as a community organizer brought him face to face with the immediate need for social justice. It connected him to his black heritage in a very visceral way. When he says those years were the best education he got, believe him.

Justice for the disadvantaged is important for many reasons having nothing to do with morality. It makes sense economically, but also politically. When people are stuck in grinding poverty with  no hope for a future then they will slowly move to the right. People who spend their time just trying to survive don’t have the time or energy to think about liberal causes, even if those causes would benefit them. Someone said “Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” Conservatives work to reduce welfare rolls by making harder and harder to get help and then not providing tools to move people off welfare into adequately paying jobs. The left conversely increases welfare rolls but also makes no provisions for the poor to be transitioned into the economic mainstream. Remember the bitter speech? Obama had it right. He understands poor and hopeless perhaps better than any presidential candidate since Bobby Kennedy. And like Bobby he feels it in his soul.

Obama learned community organizing with a model designed by Saul Alinsky.  Alinsky is credited not only as the father of community organizing but for providing the foundation for grassroots political movements. He is famous for organizing the Back of the Yards, one of the poorest South Chicago neighborhoods located around the Union Stock Yards, and immortalized in Upton Sinclair’s powerful expose The Jungle.  Alinsky’s focus was empowering people to gain power for social and political change and so it is with Obama. We see the lessons he learned on the mean streets of South Chicago as an organizer played out everyday in his campaign. Particularly in his ability to build coalitions between diverse groups for social change, 300 million Americans to move this country forward.

“We are concerned,” Alinsky elaborated, “with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people; to realize the democratic dream of equality, justice, peace, cooperation, equal and full opportunities for education, full and useful employment, health, and the creation of those circumstances in which men have the chance to live by the values that give meaning to life. We are talking about a mass power organization which will change the world…This means revolution.”

We are the one’s we have been waiting for. What a powerful, empowering, life affirming statement of hope and justice for all. The thought of empowering the masses is very radical politically. The conservative right hate it, believe it is Socialism, Marxism, Communism and very other negative “ism” they can attach to it. It is none of those things, but it is death to the status quo as we know it. It’s probably the closest  we will ever get to government of the people, by the people and for the people. In fact this commonsense approach in solving social issues should be the political middle.

There is so much work to do, not just for our new President but for us a well.  This will be the most difficult thing we have ever done. We will be forced by mutual goals to put our differences a side. Grow up, let go of our pettiness, we are all in this together. Don’t get me wrong, not expecting utopia even with success. But everyday that passes on this path puts us in a much better place to solve the problems we face.



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  1. Sorry this is so long, found I had a lot to day.

    • Robyn on June 8, 2008 at 23:19

    I’d just like to have some of it aimed our way once in awhile.

  2. it’s only been 140 years since the emancipation proclamation and civil rights marches… what, 44 years ago… at that point, a generation averaged 20 years.

    so it means, roughly, that 7 generations have passed since 1865. And a mere two since 1965…

    perspective, context helps to see it more clearly. and thanks for giving us a more dimensional look at Farrakhan.

    v. good essay

  3. this excellent essay is the organized religion part. While I agree that many religions through out history have contributed to social justice I also feel that they have created in large part human misery and  and inequity which is accepted even demanded and is created by humans (mainly men) and called divine.

    The American experiment, has at it’s heart the concept that all men are created equal. Our history as a nation has not lived up to this and Divine Right has been hand and glove tied to oppression and ignorance. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”. I understand why people turn to religion but I find it hard to ‘reconcile’ it with government. The founder’s of this nation called themselves enlightened and yet only included themselves in their design for equality. Our foundational concepts have however allowed us to progress socially despite religion, the laws of our land have enabled a way for a secular society founded on humanist truths to make the journey to real enlightenment.It’s a journey we will always struggle with.    

    I have watched my country in the last 30 years move back from  social progress, justice, and all the good that was contained in the seeds planted by those who sought to separate the church from the state. The dark ages seem to be wiping out our progress and the main social forces I see are not the Reverand Wrights but the nasty fundamentalists who have empowered the turning away from social justice.  Our equality must not depend on  the rules that men declare to be above humans. Humanism is the force that brings justice to all.

    Reconcile myself with Religion? Reconcile myself with the unholy alliance between the power mongers and the churches that would take us back to the Dark Ages and decree it the only LAW. I don’t understand who I’m supposed to reconcile with. The fact that Obama’s social justice is founded on both his church and community is a good thing. For me the tragedy lies in the fact that in our recent history we are giving credence and compassion to the ignorance and fears of Religions that have nothing to do with societal justice and everything to do with undermining our progress to form a more perfect union.        


    • geomoo on June 9, 2008 at 20:17

    I like the expansiveness grounded in the nitty gritty.

    There are a lot of things to react to.  Here are some thoughts about rhetoric, specifically the challenge of balancing needed hard-hitting rhetoric with taking responsibility for saying words that can be heard.  I’m thinking of people like Farrakhan, but my experience is with the rhetoric of many of us youth in the 60’s.  I have looked back and realized that feeling like an underdog with little chance of gaining power causes people to use extreme language freely.  We hippies could distinguish between words that were humorously exaggerated, claims that were made extreme just to make a point or express anger, and other nuances of the rhetoric of our time.  To many older citizens, our words were simply terrifying.  We would talk about “tearing down society.”  That phrase can mean a lot of things.  When we used it, we usually meant something a lot more specific than total anarchy.  I now blame irresponsible, self-indulgent use of rhetoric as part of the cause of our current culture wars.  My guess is that when Rev. Wright, for example, speaks, his words have quite specific meaning for those in the know, meaning which is both more nuanced and less extreme than they sound when taken out of context.  I believe leaders of even the most downtrodden causes bear responsibility for the effects of their words on their audience.  Perhaps extreme rhetoric is sometimes needed to tumble the walls down, but there are unfortunate consequences.  (Naturally, I’m discussing the realm of reality here, not the hateful, self-serving, cynical portrayals by media who intentionally create prejudices.)

    Your essay also made me think of the need to differentiate between narrative from self-interested parties–media in the service of corporations, fundamentalists groups who want the exclusive god-franchise, etc.–and conversation with real people.  How to get the word out, where to have these conversations, of course, is a perennial problem.

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