By Jayda Gray (Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center staff, former student)
Speech given during the Gandhi Mandela King 2023 International Conference. 6 June 2023 – 9 June 2023. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
Technological advancements have led to increased access to news from all around the world. Articles are plastered on websites, notifications on our many electronic devices show how quickly we can access international information. However with this 24 hour news cycle, our brains are constantly bombarded with stories and headlines often written in a way to increase clicks and attention, ways that highlight violence and fear while suppressing uplifting stories on people who challenge societal norms. Headlines from most major news corporations with an agenda are often counterintuitive to the battle against the status quo of hyperindividualism and greed. Rarely is intergenerational, interracial, transformational work a headline unless it is actively pursued by the reader. Simply seeking out news on justice driven movements, revolutions, etc, is an act, a passive act, that needs to be replicated for the change necessary within ourselves and communities, for a more just and equitable society.
Once again, there have been more mass shootings than days in the United States. Mass shootings have become an accepted reality for many within the United States. So much so that it rarely registers as a symptom of the violent attack on human rights and democracy. We hear about many in the news not only in words but through the pictures and videos shown every 20 minutes. The lack of action in Congress to change gun control has made many frustrated and continuous shootings and lives lost heightens that frustration. It instills cynicism into people to perpetuate the lack of engagement within democracy. We would rather be stuck on devices and social platforms that widens our reach while simultaneously shallowing our conversations, perspectives, and critical thinking skills. Social media, mobile devices, are tools that have been used, generally, in more harmful ways than constructive ways, and often in ways to prolong the status quo. The status quo, itself, is a tool utilized by racism, materialism, and militarism – Dr. King’s triplets of injustice – to increasingly sustain a lack of civic engagement by citizens and mental trapping within an oppressive system. The triplets of injustice consequently, have invaded every system and facet of society, working cohesively for the benefit of a few and abuse of the majority.
Seemingly small issues such as police violence in particularly black and Brown communities, poverty, and lack of civic education are examples of products of these triplets. Our comfort level within our current state has even warped the minds of oppressed people to reject one injustice through the acceptance of the others. Rejecting racism by accepting a materialist mindset of money and little struggle or tension while embracing and assimilating into the over militarizing of a nation, for example. Organizationally this occurs as well. Organizing and mobilizing based on a single affinity group or silo has its role but also reduces problems like homelessness, police violence, and poverty to a single dot with no connections to issues and organizing in various cities and countries around the world. Dr. King’s Worldhouse concept illustrates that it is impossible for this individual way of thinking to be accurate with the expanse of technology, communication, and access to knowledge the progressing world brings us. This narrowed perspective hinders the ability for the work to have the impact imperative for longterm change individually within the people involved and systemically. Like a weed, cutting off only what is seen above the surface, these touch points, neutralizes the problem momentarily until the roots grow another stalk. It must be pulled from the roots to completely eliminate it.
Absentmindedly, many conversations and work deal with injustice and oppression as an ‘other’ problem, one that others contribute to and participate in and therefore should try to fix. However this othering removes the responsibility that each of us holds within this larger battle against the forces of facism, hate, and injustice. We depend so much on others for survival and life, for basic supplies and non-essentials that we participate with and contribute to the perpetuation of these injustices, and some of this participation is unavoidable. From the pens we use to the phones we communicate on, nothing is untouched by injustice. Therefore it is impossible for any ‘othering’ to be accurate but choices can and should be made to sacrifice some comfort for lesser evils. Change is not thinking but conscious actions against unjust corporations, people, and systems.
A person cannot change other people or systems without first changing themselves. A person cannot ask others into this battle of courage and selflessness without putting themselves there first. It would be an empty ask that leads to violent means even if it is for peaceful ends. What is first required for liberation from oppression and for a higher amplified consciousness is changing ourselves. It is commonly taught that changing oneself comes from ideas but in reality it is conduct. It can be something small, like calling people rather than texting, or larger, such as involving oneself in service projects around their city. Continuously changing behavior and actions to ones that are other interested transforms a person into being more aware and betters one’s ability to dive deeper into the socio-economic-political state of our world and how it came to be. Without the constant looking and studying of connections between seemingly separate events, we cannot liberate ourselves from a narrow and individualist way of behaving and therefore being.
The current state of this nation is one of silos and hyperindividualism. The countering of this abrasive assault on human nature is organizationally sustained work that transcends silos and barriers. A statement commonly used is “youth are our future”. This statement is an example of the creation of silos that limit how far an organization, mission, or work can go to end abuses on humanity. This statement removes the responsibility of incorporating youth into difficult and extensive work today while removing that same responsibility for other generations in the future. To attack the status quo and triplets of injustice, to establish a norm of civic engagement and selflessness, requires intergenerational and interracial work. Work beholden on a single silo erases certain lived experiences of people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, age groups, etc. Intergenerational and interracial work is necessary resistance for the building of a more humane world through just and peaceful means. We must be dedicated in this process of self transformation and battle against injustice, through inevitable losses, struggle, and tension, for sustained long time change.