Thomas previously gave a meditation on why title the blog “Justice Outside the City.” Here are a few thoughts of my own on the title.
Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968. A year to the day before King was killed, he gave a speech at Riverside Church: “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence.” That was the later King. The earlier King — the 1963 I-Have-A-Dream King — had not yet come to see that the pervasive nature of racism is linked to economics, colonizing empire, and violence. The later King was far more dangerous: he recognized that war, poverty, and racism are all tied together in the American mind, instead of simply the Southern mind:
There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.
… I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
America’s domestic policy then is directly linked to its foreign policy. One might say in the vocabulary from the title of this blog: the search for justice outside the city is linked to confronting injustice inside the city, and vice versa. And therefore, long before it was fashionable, King came out against Vietnam.
Rush forward to the present. I suspect that the war in Afghanistan, and certainly Iraq, are products of the American mind. One only hopes that Libya is not, but I’m not holding my breath. After all, the Republicans want to eviscerate the medicare-medicaid programs and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, while the military budget is sky high as the US pursues multiple fronts in its war on terror … or whatever it is now.
Still more, consider Wisconsin — where Thomas, Geoff, and I go to school. Wisconsin has a tradition of unions. But now the governor and the legislature in Madison are attempting to eradicate gains for workers derived from the immigrant Germans to Wisconsin in the 19th century. And then there is Milwaukee’s long standing problem: it is the most segregated city in the US. There is a reason why Milwaukee goes by the nickname “the Selma of the North.”
How do these issues connect? When the now Governor Walker was Milwaukee county executive, he obstructed the Milwaukee Mayor’s endeavor to get a light rail system for the city. It is important to realize that Milwaukee is terrible when it comes to mass transit, or any movement whatsoever. Poor road quality aside, it is difficult to go east to west. Walker insisted on the highway system — a system that required ownership and maintenance of a vehicle — over and against light rail. You want to know one reason why Milwaukee continues to be the most segregated and one of the most impoverished cities in the US? Public works are being stripped and essential services are undergoing privatization at both the local and state levels for global economic-political forces (i.e. Koch brothers) over and against local worker’s voices and the impoverished class. A result? The poor are significantly immobilized both physically and socially while ethnic divisions are solidified and suppressed from view. It is fitting then that the photograph for the banner of this blog looks up at one of the highways in Milwaukee.
In sum, justice outside the city is not blind to injustice in the city, nor is going outside the city avoidance or isolation. In fact, justice outside the city is yet another facet that must be dealt with to fully address the world as we have made it. Justice outside the empire… er, city, is for the transformation of life inside and outside the city.
About the Author
David Horstkoetter is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Marquette University. He completed his MA with Gary Dorrien at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Horstkoetter’s interests include history, social ethics, and systematic theology. He also likes to take pictures and drink good beer.