By Gabriel McMorland
The Thomas Merton Center started out the new year with a spirited protest against wage theft in high winds and single digit temperatures. As I write this, we’re preparing to head back out into Pittsburgh’s icy streets for a rally against the criminalization of our public transit riders and for yet another picket line demanding PNC Bank stop financing nuclear weapons. Works for peace and justice don’t stop just for the weather, but these dark, frozen months do still call many of us to quiet contemplation and reflection. I find my own mind returning frequently to the question of unity in movements for justice.
We know we can only reach peace through justice, and justice remains the only path towards unity in our personal relationships, our organizations, and broader movements. We want the the vibrant peace of freedom and justice, not the violent pacification of law and order. Similarly, I hope we can imagine unity as resulting from trust and honest conversation. For generations, people have raised issues of patriarchy, white domination, homophobia, and other patterns of oppression within social movements. Too often, these concerns are labeled as hostile or divisive and met with urgent calls for unity.
Let’s welcome critiques from within our own communities and across movements for peace and justice. We can examine how the injustices of society repeat themselves in our own minds, relationships, and organizations. Many thinkers, including Thomas Merton, have observed that the way we engage in peace and justice work matters at least as much as achieving any temporary political goals. I believe we can start to unravel the cycle of weaponizing calls for unity and polite respectability.
While this conversation has played out for more than one hundred years, I recently found inspiration in the words of racial justice writer Robert Jones Jr., who posted on Twitter:
“We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
I welcome responses to this letter, either in your own writing for the NewPeople or as a dialogue at email@example.com. I look forward to joining so many of you in this work throughout 2018.