Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Arc of Justice

My grandmother, Irene Reiner.
I am going to say something that may sound a bit outlandish: My interest in social justice began more than a century ago.

It was 1906. Teddy Roosevelt was president, an earthquake leveled San Francisco and a young girl of 14 named Irene Reiner left a dirt-floor shack in Kolozsvar, Hungary to live in the tenements of Manhattan.

Irene was my grandmother. At some point in her childhood, the inequity of the world must have touched off a spark inside, because she spent most of her life involved in social activism. She marched for the right of women to vote, and as a blue-collar factory worker, she staunchly backed unions. As a child, my father, Alfred, sat on her lap at public lectures on social issues, presented by some of the most preeminent intellectuals of the day.

Reared on social justice, Alfred followed in her footsteps. In the 1930s, following the passage of the Wagner Act, which protected the rights of workers to form unions, my father was among the first crop of activists to start a union at his workplace.

My dad, Alfred Friedman, enjoying the view at a park in Virginia.
So not surprisingly, my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor of our living room, surrounded by groups of adults passionately discussing social and political issues. My father supported the Civil Rights movement, equal treatment of women and—despite being a World War II veteran—was opposed to the Vietnam Conflict.

“I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.”—Ellen Goodman, columnist, 1941-

You might say that the ancestral chi of my grandmother and father inculcated in me a strong sense of social justice. They taught me about life by being who they were. This is particularly important in a world that seems increasingly motivated by profit over people. Washington DC runs by a system that sells legislation to the highest bidder. The highest bidder can be a corporation because the Supreme Court recently determined that corporations are people and can donate an unlimited amount of money anonymously to the candidates of their choice.

No matter. My mother told me when I was young that social and political movements tend to swing like pendulums between conservative and liberal, rich and poor. There is always a back and forth between the welfare of the masses versus the welfare of the privileged few. This is nothing new. Look at the Magna Carta from the 13th Century. (The Magna Carta was the first document forced onto an English king by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges.)

More recently, our grandparents and great-grandparents fought for unions to ensure fair wages, for social safety nets (such as unemployment insurance and social security for the elderly and sick) and for the environment (Scotsman John Muir, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, fought to ensure that Yosemite National Park and its environs were protected from sheep farming and other forms of development).

“Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you're alive, it isn't.”—Richard Bach

Occupy Wall Street in NYC: reclaiming our country.
I recently read that the Koch brothers—two maniacal billionaires a la the tradition of James Bond villains—have sent funding to more than 150 colleges across the country with the stipulation that they can hire and fire professors and determine curriculum content. So the power elite are now not only controlling the majority of our news media, but also are beginning to indoctrinate college students to their value systems.  

How do we counter that? By taking our power back, and that begins with our government. The most formidable problem facing us today is the unlimited, money-based system in Washington, DC that is undermining our middle class. But that can be changed. Remember, there are more of us—the US populace—than there are of them—rich corporate and private concerns bent on controlling this country. We can get our country back by insisting on election-funding reform. This isn’t about the democrats or republicans. They are both servants to the money-hungry election-funding system that exists today. The polarized debates we see on television between parties is nothing more than a distraction from the real issue of election-funding reform.

The rich and powerful would like to dilute our efforts to change the current system by throwing out red herrings to distract us. If they can splinter the US populace into smaller groups and pit us against each other, they can quietly take all our jobs and liberties away. These bogus national issues of hatred include:
  • Immigration issues
  • Gay marriage issues
  • Collective bargaining issues
  • Religious issues
  • Political party issues
We have always been a diverse country and that has been our strength. Those in power would like to turn that strength against us. Write to your Congressperson to demand a change in our election-funding rules. Until that happens, nothing will change. Remember, any injustice can be overcome given enough time and effort.

Perhaps the most profound statement regarding this came from the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own way puts our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice...."

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