On March 25, 1965, Martin Luther King gave a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, at the conclusion of the bloody warfare that was the “Selma to Montgomery” march.
As we hear new voices white nationalism during this election season, I recall Dr. King’s words. For Christians, this season of “wolves” requires that we be “shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
Here’s an excerpt from King’s speech:
Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.
To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.
If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)
Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)–Martin Luther King Jr.
Read the whole speech.
In the middle of this crazy election season, I’ve appreciated the thoughtful leadership of the Franciscans in how to approach difficult decisions.
The Franciscan Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Directorate is presenting short pieces to help introduce particularly Franciscan and Catholic approaches to the decision-making process. (Click here for the first installment.)
I urge you to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt from their second installment:
As Franciscans, we see voting as a communal decision-making process that eschews political slogans and mere intellectual abstractions or principles. Instead, it begins with a call to pay close attention to our experience, especially to our relationship with those who are powerless and marginalized. This unique path of discernment goes back to St. Francis of Assisi. Just as St. Francis of Assisi encountered Christ and his love in the embrace of the leper, we as Franciscan-hearted people are invited to embrace the excluded of today and speak for those who are not able to speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9).
Now more than ever, our love for Christ and all the powerless and vulnerable who bear his image impels us to bring their voices to the public square. To do this, it is incumbent upon us to ask critical questions and identify the processes by which so many of our brothers and sisters are being impoverished and excluded. Our desire for integrity and the all-embracing vision of God’s love calls us to transcend the blind spots and biases of any political party with its ideologies.
As we work to this end, we hope that in the silence of our hearts, made more open by compassion, we can behold the beauty of all God’s creation, especially the children who are victims of abortion, the children who live and die in abject poverty, the elderly, the immigrants, the victims of injustice, violence and war, and the homeless, the sick and the unemployed.
Read the rest of Franciscans Are Not ‘Party Animals’ (Part II)
Fr. Jon Pedigo serves Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in San Jose, Calif. He’s written a wonderful and insightful piece for PICO National Network on how the outcome of elections impacts his community:
I’m a Catholic pastor working in a Mexican immigrant community in the east side of San José. My community is less than a 15 minute drive away from some of the wealthiest real estate in Silicon Valley. Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish is in the neighborhood formerly known as, “Sal Si Puedes” (“Leave If You Can”). Though we are minutes away from some of the wealthiest dot-com tycoons, we might as well be living in another country. In my community only two out of 100 children graduate from college and more than half of the students drop out of high school. I am writing this article one week after we buried three murder victims. My community has dozens of families affected by deportation. On my first day at this parish – just this past July – two parents were deported leaving behind four children. The oldest is 14, the youngest 20 months.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is mired in poverty, deportations, a failing educational system and violence. This community, however, is resilient. They regularly engage in society through community organizing. Over the recent past we have had small victories built upon small victories that have resulted in the establishment of charter schools, a change in police and city policies that are more immigrant friendly, and more positive police engagement in our neighborhoods. Obviously we have a long way to go and not all our problems can be solved by community actions. Our community must also engage in the electoral process.
The Catholic Church regularly publishes, “Faithful Citizenship,” a handbook for Catholics designed to help us engage in the political process. Catholics are encouraged to consider their faith values – (and I add and emphasize the word, “all” faith values) – when we vote. Moral theology also teaches that we must also consider the context of our life when applying these values. The context that we must consider is the growing economic gap between the rich and poor and all the social complications that happens when there is gross inequality and how marginalized communities such as mine, are affected by budget cuts that result in fewer police officers on our streets, closure of after school programs, and larger class sizes. We must consider how our national budget will affect the people who depend on entitlement programs and the ways that immigration policy affects our children. To my community, these are literally issues of life and death.
Conscientious Catholics are aware that our faith values are not captured by any single political party or in any single candidate. We must therefore tread very carefully through the political process. Some Catholics have a suspicious and even negative view of the political process. Other Catholics take on a rather simplistic approach when voting, applying only one or two faith criteria when voting. To vote “single issue” is not responsible voting. We must use a discernment process before we enter the ballot box. … —Fr. Jon Pedigo
Read the rest of Fr. Jon’s reflections here.
I used the fact that I still haven’t adjusted to the time change after returning from Ireland to Washington, D.C., to my advantage this morning. I got up at 6 a.m. Went to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and chocolate glazed. Then went to 14th and Columbia Rd. NW to cast my ballot for the first truly progressive candidate for president that the U.S. has seen in some time.
When I arrived at 6:45 am, I was about 400th in line. Stunning. I stood with neighbors and former co-workers and people who I only know because I’ve seen them on the street. We laughed and joked and generally said how great it was to be able to stand in line and cast our vote. Everyone acknowledged that the District of Columbia, the continental United States’ last colony, would go Democrat, but no one was going to miss the opportunity to vote.
I haven’t felt such positive, happy excitement and determination in America in a long, long time. Even the school kids riding the city bus past the polling station lines, wrote notes of support on their lined notebook paper and held them up to the bus windows as it drove by.
I stood in line for about an hour and a half. The system inside the voting station at the Latin American Youth Center was a little chaotic, but functional. I used my Number 2 pencil to “connect the arrow” and ran my ballot through the reader. The nice woman at the machine gave me a “I Voted” sticker and thanked me.
It is done. I left the polling place, nodded to the D.C. polling station police, and walked the entire line back to my car. There must have been a thousand people in line when I left. Is it wrong to add that the sun broke through the clouds just at that moment and the birds seemed to make their morning calls just a little louder than usual? I don’t know. But something sure feels good..