Day 3: We Must Awaken Our Country
Today is Day 3 of the Thirty Days of Love. Today’s action is to share a fact about the New Jim Crow. Click here for more resources, family actions, and more! Click here to sign up for the daily Thirty Days of Love emails.
“There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Commencement Address for Oberlin College, June 1965
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extraordinary person whose beautiful words and prophetic deeds emanated a faith in love, justice, and human dignity as divinely inspired truths. He, like millions of other Black Americans, dreamed of a life free from Jim Crow; a time when people of all colors will be able to “stretch out with their arms and cry out: Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last”! The vision he brought to life galvanized people from all walks of life, stirred hearts, and changed our nation—profoundly and forever. Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, many of us also celebrate President Obama’s inauguration, applauding his re-election and all it means to have the ‘whites only’ sign decisively removed from the White House. But does this mean Dr. King’s vision of freedom is truly a reality?
At this moment, one-third of all African-American young men are under active control of the criminal justice system—currently in jail, on probation, or on parole. The majority of those in jail today are low level, non-violent offenders—victims of the “get tough movement” and the War on Drugs that has been waged almost exclusively against poor people of color, and that has swelled our country’s prison population to the highest incarceration rate in the entire world. Sadly, far too many of us have been asleep while this caste-like system has been re-birthed in America, and millions have been systematically locked up in cages. On this day when we honor Dr. King, we must admit out loud that we, as a nation, have fundamentally failed in our promise of freedom. Millions of poor people — overwhelmingly poor people of color—are shuttled from their impoverished, segregated communities and their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high-tech prisons. We have created a system of mass incarceration—a system unprecedented in world history— that locks millions into a permanent second-class status, stripping them of the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Systematic racial discrimination is still alive and well in the modern day United States
On this Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, please join me in speaking the truth about mass incarceration, getting educated, and organizing for change.
Once released from prison, members of the new under-caste face legalized discrimination and permanent social exclusion. Branded felons for life, they face enormous challenges finding a job because they are required to “check the box” on applications. They are barred from eligibility for assistance that can help get them back on their feet, like student loans to pursue higher education and programs that help individuals feed themselves and their families as they search for employers receptive to hiring those labeled felons. In most states, they also lose the right to vote and serve on juries. This system of mass incarceration has replaced Jim Crow laws and, like all systems of discrimination and exclusion, it is based on the belief that some of us are not worthy of genuine care, compassion, or concern.
Dr. King had a tremendous spirit of humility; he prayed that God would help him to see that he was “just a symbol of a movement.” I strive to honor his legacy by working to ensure that the freedom movement he electrified never dies. There is much work to be done, and all our voices are needed. Striving for “public witness” through words and deeds is, as I understand it, a crucial value for Unitarian Universalists and all those who stand on the side of love. Indeed, declaring a National Standing on the Side of Love Month, and setting aside a period of thirty days as a spiritual journey for love and justice, is in itself prophetic.
Together, let us begin these Thirty Days by honoring the legacy of Dr. King and all the justice-seekers who came before us. Join me in working to dismantle this system of mass incarceration—-the New Jim Crow. You can get started with me in the movement by simply sharing information and resources with your friends and colleagues through social media, or by having a conversation. Click here to find more resources and suggestions on how to get involved.
Nothing short of a major social movement will end the system of mass incarceration. Let us be that social movement, motivated by the belief in love and justice that inspired Dr. King. Let us carry forward the legacy of freedom fighters by movement-building with poor people of all colors. Let us build bridges between advocates for education reform, economic justice, LGBTQ equality, and migrant rights. Let us open our hearts and minds, and build an underground railroad for people getting out of prison, offering food, shelter and education to those in need. Let us awaken from our colorblind slumber, welcome newly released prisoners into our communities and our congregations, and embrace the humanness of those we label criminals.
Please join the movement for justice by speaking the truth, getting educated, and organizing for change.
With hope and gratitude,
Dr. Michelle Alexander
Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University, civil rights advocate, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness