Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day — the 61-year anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first Black player in otherwise-all-white Major League Baseball (technically Jackie was not the first ever, but the first since Moses Fleetwood Walker played a season in the big leagues in the 1880s, but that’s another story).
This year, I spent the day in Memphis with my family, and it turns out I couldn’t have commemorated the day any better.Read More
Today we are inaugurating Donald Trump, a president promising to “make America great again.”
It's almost a joke at this point. We all know America has never really been great — not for everybody at the same time anyway. Any of its strengths have always existed at the expense of an oppressed group of people.
In a way, because he has made so much truth so hard to ignore, Trump’s inauguration is ours as well. Now is our time. We know things are not right in this country.
And in knowing, we are now choosing: Will I stand up and resist? Or will I be an oppressor, even if only in my silence?
By knowing, we have been called to stay vigilant. It is up to us to take action, to decide whether or not we heed that call. Every little thing is at stake. We are, like it or not, watchdogs.
There’s no better example of this than in the world of education. Maybe you remember that last year our government came together for a rare moment of bipartisanship and passed a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Like the No Child Left Behind law that preceded it, ESSA still asks states to measure how well their public schools are doing with vulnerable populations like low-income, minority and children with special needs. But now it’s up to the states to monitor themselves on this behavior.
And if you know anything about the history of civil rights in this country, you know that states haven’t done such a good job of policing themselves on this sort of thing: Think Brown vs. Board or the Civil Rights Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These battles won in the courtroom or on the legislative floor aren’t acted out on the ground without a fight.
Now each state is submitting new plans for accountability under ESSA to the federal government. Think about it: States will be asking Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos for approval on how to make sure they’re closing the opportunity gap and improving student outcomes for kids who’ve traditionally been ignored. You’ll have to excuse me if I’m not optimistic.
Even once those plans are in place, the feds then have very few levers to impact anything if the states do fail to meet accountability standards. For all its faults, No Child Left Behind at least had teeth that the new setup does not.
Most of this is going to happen without a vote and without significant public input. It’s up to us to keep tabs, speak up and create change, to let go of our defensiveness. It’s time to move forward together in resistance to Trump, the new symbol of the all-American oppression we have been living with all along: racial discrimination, “justified” violence, economic disparity, intentional segregation, destructive environmental policy, profound inequity in school funding, and more and more everywhere we turn.
We have always been forcing someone to fight tooth and nail for their rights in the United States, and it takes a toll on all of us. If we aspire to some old “greatness,” as Trump would have us do now, we are only reaching backward to expand on our oppressive past.
It will be hard. It is hard.
The decision is ours to make each minute, but there is really no decision to make. Fortunately, the wisest among us have already thought this through:
You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Martin Luther King Day is a reliable source for inspiration every January. It’s like the activist’s New Year’s. Just about everyone goes out — even lots of folks who wouldn’t normally — and things seem possible and fresh and worth dreaming about.
Particularly striking this year was the intersectionality on display at yesterday's MLK Day march from Garfield High School to downtown Seattle. “Black Lives Matter” was sort of the grounding principle of the event, but woven in seamlessly were protest signs and chants tied to Standing Rock and the #NoDAPL movement, opposing Muslim registry and urging resistance to Trump.
We will face another challenging year together in 2017. Unlike any I’ve ever experienced, I’m quite sure.
If you thought last year was crazy, think about the implications of this woman's sign:
Days before the inauguration, we have many, many people filling the streets of many, many cities advocating resistance to our President-elect. And not just because we want different things or have different political ideals. This resistance is being shouted into existence out of fear and shock and desperation and self-defense.
We’ve elected a leader whom a LOT of people — intelligent people — believe to be a fascist posing a serious threat to our “democracy.” A startling number of people believe he represents a force to be opposed, and I think there’s good reason to be scared. Trump is a bad guy in the Lord Helmet or Dr. Evil mold — stupid yet sinister. You can never really let your guard down.
I think that sentiment, the idea of “resisting Trump,” in some ways encompasses everything. It gets at the root of the issue for once.
An inequitable public school system is a symptom of an inequitable, racist system of government. Poverty and gross income inequality are symptoms of our savage, discriminatory capitalist system. They aren’t themselves the source of the sickness.
We know our systems are fundamentally flawed. To continue on this way is akin to tirelessly treating every individual symptom of a disease without ever acknowledging the disease that continually births the symptoms. We don’t worry too much about alopecia until the cancer is gone, you know?
So, I hope we continue to see and create this intersectionality all year long. I will not truly be free until all my brothers and sisters share the same privilege that I do. My liberation is tied up in everyone else’s.
Standing Rock and Ferguson, Flint and Charlotte, Seattle and Chicago and New York and everywhere else that someone has been resisting, these are the front lines. They are the front lines not of individual, separate wars, but of different battles within the same desperate struggle against American hate and blind capitalism.
It’s only appropriate today to refer back to someone who has talked much more eloquently about all this than I ever will:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate:
only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
From ‘Where Do We Go From Here?” as published in Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 62.
Remember: Martin Luther King, Jr., was just a man. He was a man who lived an unusually bold, unusually brilliant life, and his work has made life better for every person in this country. I believe that. But he was also just a father and a son, a husband with a profession.
We’re all just people, and no one else can do this work for us. It may threaten our comfort and our safety and our lives, but if we are to live out the values that we all so fervently and social-medially supported yesterday, we will have to be bolder than we are used to being, too. We will have to use our fear and our discomfort as torches lighting the pathway to our courage. It will take everyone’s love to drive out this much hate, and everyone includes you.
Yesterday was a beautiful day, but it will be a hollow gesture if we don’t spend the rest of the year backing it up with more bold, loving action in the name of equality.