The last couple of weeks brought our staff together in personal reflection and group conversation surrounding both the history, and the future of our country: Former President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address sparked conversation around the difficult, yet urgent, need for dialogue; Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminded us of the notion of Beloved Community - a society grounded in justice; and the Women’s March on Washington compelled us to be in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of people who rallied and marched to defend the rights of marginalized identities.
Just as the 2017 namesake pays homage to the 1963 March on Washington, so too does their commitment to nonviolent resistance - reminding us that the concept of embracing others through an ethic of love isn’t anything new. In his essay, An Experiment in Love, Dr. King powerfully explains that nonviolence should never be mistaken for passivity. Rather, nonviolence is an active decision to center the principles of love and community. This recognition assures us that in the current state of our democracy, utter divisiveness and hateful rhetoric will only push us further apart, and prevent us from building a more inclusive and yes, “perfect union.”
Our vision of a society of active citizens falls parallel with MLK’s hope for Beloved Community - it acknowledges that while we have differences in beliefs, values, and action, we must practice patience, understanding, forgiveness - ultimately, uniting as one thriving and vibrant community. This vision includes - and demands - involvement from every single member of society.
Watching Obama’s Farewell Address reminded us of acts of genuine community building that are often easy to dismiss:
“For too many of us, it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles - whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds - surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions… And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it's true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”
For us to achieve the Beloved Community, we need to consider the lives of others (all others), and not just folks who look or think like we do. It’s a tiresome role, but our history of civil rights and the teachings of nonviolence has illuminated a particular truth: we need to be the ones to take the first step toward reconciliation and avoid condemnation.
In times of uncertainty, we must challenge ourselves not to cling deeper into the safety of own echo chambers, but rather, find commonalities with those who don’t share our identity. We must hold tight to the words of our former President: democracy requires “a basic sense of solidarity - the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”
Nonviolence is an active choice. It implores us to resist without savage actions or words. As we enter a time of transition, let us stay true to our values, challenge what is unjust, and embrace each other.