As we struggle to make sense of these times and the Arizona shooting for ourselves and for our communities, Martin Luther King, Jr Day feels especially poignant this year. What does Beloved Community mean in these times?
Just how do we build Beloved Communities in a time when crosshairs are used to pinpoint congressional districts to "take out," when a candidate invites constituents to come shoot an M16 with him as a campaign strategy (in Giffords’ district) or when the battle strategies of the culture wars turn onto healthcare?
Dr. King spoke of The Beloved Community as our goal, “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
Who gets to be a part of Beloved Community?
We are currently in a debate about who is an American: the questioning of Obama’s citizenship, the strength of the anti-immigrant movement, the rallying call to "take America back"- these are all arguments about who America belongs to.
As this debate rages on in our country and our state, I reflect on the words shared by ROP Founder and longtime local organizer in her home community of Columbia County, Marcy Westerling. Marcy shares this reflection about the town hall madness of 2009, and a local organizing project that she was starting, but unable to see through once diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer:
The town hall in St. Helens was a carnival of poor behavior (in the summer of 2009). The heated atmosphere had the fire department deputized to maintain calm. It was the type of crowd I could easily imagine attacking each other with pitchforks in another era. A long time head of the hard religious right approached me. We talked for over an hour troubled by the jeers of both sides – health care being the excuse. Joe and I didn’t agree on health care either but we were able to refocus and say wouldn’t it be cool to have a sane discussion on how this one community might make sure that everyone had health care. Not surprisingly, we both agreed that access to medical care was important. And so I took the lead role in bringing together good thinkers that would maintain their core values but not be falsely partisan in problem solving real issues. Our first meeting was finally going to happen. I was sad to miss seeing what a conversation focused on building a resilient community could mean to our community.
This Martin Luther King Day let’s consider what it would take to have these conversations in our hometowns and begin to build that Beloved Community.