by Joe Courter
These are challenging times to make sense of. Last week we saw Trump fire the director of the FBI and also announce thousands of more troops to Afghanistan. Healthcare is in the hands of the Senate. Each of these acts will impact lives and set off chains of events whose outcome we cannot know in advance. We are along for the ride, and it can easily make one feel powerless. But powerless we are not.
Martin Luther King Jr. popularized the phrase “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
This can make it seem like some preordained thing, like those simple-minded bumper stickers around Gainesville that say “If anything can go well, it will.”
Um, no, that’s not how the struggle for justice works. Former president Barack Obama addressed this on May 7 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where he received the annual Profiles in Courage award. Referring to the King quote, he said: “It bends because we bend it. Because we put our hand on that arc, and we move it in the direction of justice.”
Angela Davis popularized the phrase “freedom is a constant struggle,” and that struggle to bend the arc toward justice is a battle with other forces which are pulling it in the other direction, or perhaps just trying to move forward a practice rigidly stuck.
Those working against justice are often not “hands” but forces of corporate greed, of an attachment to outmoded ways of thinking which value traditions of exploitation as being “normal,” and of decades-old decisions and policies which created or stimulated injustice, exploitation, or other negative consequences.
Take the immigration crisis as it manifests around the globe. People don’t just choose en masse to leave their homes; people would never do that on the scale we are seeing. Economics and violence are strong motivators; you don’t want to see loved ones starving or being killed. The rapid increase in violence and war in the area of the Mediterranean Sea is a huge catalyst to what we see on our screens. What we see there is different than the immigration patterns we see in this hemisphere.
Here in the U.S., we largely see long-term impacts of U.S. government policies playing out over generations. The 1960s “Green Revolution” saw corporate agriculture move into the Americas, displacing small farmers who then moved to cities. This impact in Latin America was disruptive, and with exploding populations, migrations began out of the cities and toward the land of opportunity, the USA. Wars in Central America compounded this, especially in El Salvador and Guatemala. Gang activity in especially southern California saw recent migrants get caught up in the lifestyle, and then take it back home to El Salvador, resulting in more immigration to the U.S.
Trump’s crude response to immigration is appalling. These are times when we all need to put our hands out and bend that arc toward justice. We must build resistance, and our city and county are shining lights by being welcoming and supporting the rights of migrants in our community. Seeing our Mayor and a County Commissioner jointly reading a proclamation declaring May 1 Immigrant Rights Day in Gainesville and Alachua County filled me with pride for our Blue Dot. We have elected a slew of really good people to our City and County government, but we citizens must both have their backs when attacked, and be on their backs, challenging them to do better.
One thing highlighted at the May Day event was a new “tip line” initiated by the Trump administration. Called VOICE (Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement), it is a tool in building fear of immigrants. It has gotten little publicity amid all the other “news” coming out of Washington (and most of what I had heard about it dealt with floods of bogus calls going to it about space aliens), but I cannot forget City Commissioner Harvey Budd’s (immigrant 1958) look of horror recounting just learning of its existence when I was talking to him after the event.
We need outrage to grow, we need to not turn away. We are waking up, and while humor and satire are having a field day (and I rejoice at this), this is dead serious. Resistance is growing and in whatever way you can, join it. D