It has been fifty years since we lost the courageous African American theologian who stood and died for justice. He did his part along the human journey of highs and lows in all of humanity’s desire to be equal and live in peace.
As magnificent a species that we are, we have been given to atrocities and injustices by some against others – systemic woes as we deepen and advance.
Since the Civil Rights movement there have been threats of nuclear war, and diseases capable of wiping out whole regions, testing the resolve of leaders and scientists on the right side of the divide. And yes, some of these same scientists have secretly cloned human organs and possibly human beings in hidden and not so hidden laboratories around the world, while others have attempted to mimic all human functioning through technology and its rapid advancements.
Nonetheless these challenges have been at the hands of man, which means that other men and women could do their best to combat the evils that accompany evolution. It is a little different with respect to current crises.
Climate change wipes away our arrogance, our possessions, our communities, homes, and for some our lives, with an overpowering vengeance. Hurricanes, droughts, wild fires, tsunamis and other climate related calamities, with greater intensity and frequency these days, come upon us violently with the reminder that we are not all powerful and in control. Rather we are at the mercy of something greater, and we are expendable.
It is an incredible contradiction. Humanity’s imagination and drive to be an do more, efficiently – better, faster, and more dynamic – is leading to our eventual destruction. In these quests inevitably greed by way of egregious injustices has taken over even the most noble intentions. Columbus’ conquests remain in part, unforgivable but we witnessed the perversion of capitalistic gain not long after with the Atlantic slave trade. The rich and powerful of Europe and then the Americas, in their desire to have more, deconstructed the lives of an entire continent. And still in present times through expressions of racism on one hand, and self hatred through the common idiosyncrasies of predominately Black communities and countries the world over, we have yet to recover.
“Historians still debate exactly how many Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic during the next four centuries. A comprehensive database compiled in the late 1990s puts the figure at just over 11 million people… Africa was the only continent to be affected in this way, and this loss of population and potential population was a major factor leading to its economic underdevelopment….” Dr Hakim Adi (Ph.D SOAS, London University)
This international lapse in equality exacerbated by the enrichment of a few saw the demise of millions of Africans who physically did not survive the journey across the seas, and millions more and their descendants who battle psychologically and emotionally. But we eventually rose as a species and brought an end to slavery by 1834. While injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, injustice on a grand scale always tests and then expands human morals and consciousness. Unfortunately springing with increasing rights and freedoms and developing laws which quashed the slave trade was an adaptation almost equally horrific. Societies had to continue to grow with the majority in Western Civilization becoming cheap labor to maintain the fortunes of the “superior” class.
Resultantly, we soon learned like Martin King and his peers would, that while racism was real, as experienced by the African Diaspora in Western civilization, most notably through Jim Crow in the United States, oppression driven by capitalism knew no race, creed or color. Instead, the voluntary livelihood of common people in developing cities, the economies of which were steadily developing upon what Arnold Toynbee coined later as the “Industrial Revolution” saw the dehumanization of White and Colored men, women, children, and whole societies. The paradigm shift was after all the “mechanization of agriculture and textile manufacturing and a revolution including steamships and railroads that affected social, cultural, and economic conditions.” (webs.bcp.org)
During this period, as cities developed in Europe and then the Americas, challenges in substandard housing, urbanization, the spread of disease, and child labor as examples, led to modern day solutions for successful urban centers after great suffering. Laws also developed over time to protect the rights of the disadvantaged in the burgeoning communities – again through great suffering. And we may argue that many of the developmental goals outlined by the United Nations, a body which came in to being after the atrocities of Nazi Germany and our eventual united response to that level of tyranny, are the present and future goals of countries still trying to keep pace with the disparity in existence between the haves and the have nots in developing states.
“Since the Industrial Revolution was so new at the end of the 18th century, there were initially no laws to regulate new industries. For example, no laws prevented businesses from hiring seven-year-old children to work full time in coal mines or factories. No laws regulated what factories could do with their biohazard waste. Free-market capitalism meant that the government had no role in regulating the new industries or planning services for new towns. And those who controlled the government liked it that way …” (webs.bcp.org)
And so, we know the beauty and hellish corruptibility of the human spirit. We strive as individuals and as bodies daily to the strike the balance between our insatiable appetites for more/better and the lapses in fairness which lead to too many being exploited or left behind.
We have faced injustice in diverse places, for diverse reasons, but nothing has prepared us for the damage done to our ONE home, planet earth. Through capitalism and industry, the most powerful nations have disproportionately escalated carbon dioxide emissions, which have damaged our o-zone layer. Thusly, the perversion of trade, and industry, and what is accepted as normal pursuits of success in capitalistic societies have led to our present threat – climate change.
Science is making the case every day that the phenomenon is real. Daily occurrences of climate related calamity also make the reality clear. Droughts in sub-Saharan Africa are leading to displacement and death. Hurricanes in the Caribbean, and now the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States of America, are wreaking havoc on levels never before imagined; while typhoons and tsunamis cause mass devastation in the Eastern and Pacific nations.
As quantifiable as the damage related to climate change is, and as deadly the threat with overall rises in temperatures, and sea level rises, some key world leaders refuse to acknowledge the need for more urgent mitigation. The President of the United States, Donald Trump has reversed his country’s commitment to the 2016 Paris Accord, where under President Obama, the U.S. was truly leading the way in its pledge to cut emissions, and contribute to a fund for vulnerable small island developing states which are suffering because of the negligence and inaction of the more powerful nations. The Trump move is especially frightful as other Nations may join the U.S.
The irony could not be clearer as two U.S. cities, Oakland and San Francisco, are attempting to bring civil suits against the big five in oil production to defend against the ensuing damage that will be caused by rising sea levels. It is a landmark case for many reasons.
So much for survival of the fittest. Generations of competition between the powerfully rich minority has landed us all up the proverbial creek – with no one exempt from nature’s wrath. Centuries of wrongly defining purpose and value have crystallized what true injustice is. As a result, we all now face a risk a common doom.
Hope, however, tells us that we will find the solutions to overcome. We always have. Through grave wrongs somehow we rise to right the wrongs through the same genius of imaginations that put us in peril. We await the voices which will herald the urgency of the need for collective action. Who will be our Martin?