"We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing."
Wendell Berry, from Compromise, Hell!
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice but, left to its own devices, that arc would, indeed, be long.
Sometimes, the arc needs a little help. Human history is packed with people helping the arc along by confronting injustice.
Many of us profess to be Christians. Jesus is one of those historic figures who helped bend the arc of justice. One example: In his first appearance at the temple in Nazareth, Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4: 16-19)
How would quoting the Prophet Isaiah help bend the arc of justice? Nazareth and all of Judaea was an occupied land. The power of the day, Rome, and those complicit were benefitting from the enslavement of the poor, the captives, the oppressed. Jesus, speaking out, was calling out the oppressors. He said what others dared not say. He so enraged those that heard him that they tried to kill him, driving him to the edge of a hill where they hoped he would plunge to his death. (Luke 4: 20-30)
American history, too, has those who bend the moral arc toward justice.
The Boston Tea Party was a reaction to the coercive powers of the British East India Company. It was, in essence, the ExxonMobil of its day. In order to see that its profits were robust (because a Dutch company's smuggled tea was undercutting the East India Company), Parliament enacted a series of "intolerable" laws. The colonists reacted to those laws with an act of civil disobedience (and destruction of property) by tossing tea overboard. Today we celebrate those brave "activists."
Rosa Park, too, bent the arc toward justice. The story goes that she was a simple seamstress too tired to move when she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery AL bus in 1955. Parks was no simple seamstress and she may have been tired but, more likely, she was sick and tired of being treated shabbily because of the color of her skin. Parks broke the law supporting segregation but, in so doing, addressed a greater injustice.
We here in Butler County are faced with an injustice. Our communities are being industrialized, our air, water and soil are being befouled, our health is being compromised and our government is not acting to protect us.
We (MOB and concerned others) have responded to this by availing ourselves of all of the legal avenues available to us. We have: filed permit appeals; worked toward appropriate zoning; done DEP file reviews; appealed to our local, state, and federal government officials; engaged in marches and rallies; invited in experts and victims to speak of the harms of unconventional drilling and fracking; sued and sought other legal relief, and many, many other tools.
We have, however, shied away from asking our members to consider the sorts of tools that accelerate the bend of the arc toward justice.
My personal call to nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience was first activated when I watched on a live stream as my favorite author, Wendell Berry, went to visit the Governor of Kentucky (his home state), and refused to leave his office until the Governor acted to protect Kentucky from the ravages of mountaintop removal coal mining. Berry spent the weekend "camped" in the Governor's office, garnering lots of press and making a powerful point.
In the quote at the beginning of this article, Berry -- an octogenarian, farmer, philosopher, poet, novelist and essayist -- tells us that we must be "radical" if we are to rid ourselves of those who would oppress us. And how does he define "radical"? As "being thorough." "Being thorough" means using all the tools at our disposal to affect change. It means emulating the likes of Jesus and the Boston Tea Party activists and Rosa Parks and Dr. King and Wendell Berry. Their actions may make us feel uncomfortable, but history shows us that this is how real change happens and justice is won. We all know that the system is broken but most of us continue to play the game even though it's rigged. It's going to take some brave people to stand up and say that they are no longer going to play by the rules that are meant to keep us losing. When enough people stand up, the rules will change.
Undoubtedly we will have to stretch well beyond our comfort zones to accelerate the bending of the arc of the moral universe toward justice in Butler County. But it is not beyond our capability to do so.
-- Michael Bagdes-Canning
(The opinions expressed in this blog do not reflect any official positions held by MOB or any of its members.)