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June 15, 2017

We Are All in the Struggle for Peace and Justice Together

We Are All in the Struggle for Peace and Justice Together

 

By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Derry, Northern Ireland

Jun 15, 2017

 

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INTRODUCTION

 

In the name of Jesus of Galilee and Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is only appropriate that on this occasion we fondly remember Martin McGuinness, a man of Derry, a passionate man, a commander in the Irish Republican Army who fought with everything he had for his people, but who also, like Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa, had the capacity to transform himself and the IRA’s political arm, Sinn Fein (shin-FAIN), into instruments of peace and reconciliation after decades of warfare known as The Troubles.

He saw peace and reconciliation as power, as power beyond the limits of war. 

War is an intemperate failure. It is the exhaustion of rational thinking. There is no future in war. Martin McGuinness was a peacemaker with all the risk involved with that journey, not merely a peacekeeper, which too often translates into quietness and surrender to the status quo. 

Let’s give Martin McGuinness, and all of those who struggled with him for peace and justice, a rousing standing ovation. 

 

 

REMOVE NOT THE ANCIENT LANDMARKS 

In the Old Testament in Proverbs 22:28 (KJV) it says, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”

This magnificent civil rights museum is a testament to that ancient biblical proverb. 

Free Derry is the cornerstone of the civil rights movement of Northern Ireland.  The 1968-to-1972 story of Free Derry is told from the point of view of the people most involved in the struggle.  And the museum is located on the land where the struggle took place.  This is sacred ground – holy ground - set apart to remind and teach future generations what happened here!  It’s a permanent record of the courage and sacrifices these men and women made to achieve peace, justice and self-determination.

 

 

YOU WERE NEVER ALONE

In your darkest hour, the light of hope within you was shining around the world. In Cuba, Nicaragua and South Africa, Chicago and Poland, we felt you and gained inspiration from your struggle. 

Even though we were enmeshed in our own tentacles of the global struggle for justice and peace – which we hope was an inspiration to you as well - we saw you.  And we identified with you.  Truth be known, neither of us was ever really alone.  Bernadette Devlin came to Chicago and spoke for me at the regular Saturday morning forum of SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket. 

We had our own Battle of the Bogside in Birmingham, Alabama when the military authorities turned high-powered hoses on children engaged in a non-violent protest over segregation that ripped their skin off, and four little girls were killed when a bomb was set off by white supremacists at a church.  But that eventually led to President Lyndon Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act putting an end to segregated public facilities. 

Your Bloody Sunday occurred on January 30, 1972 during a non-violent anti-incarceration march where 14 people were killed and 17 injured when British paratroopers mercilessly opened fire peaceful protesters.  But what the oppressor has never understood - and what we must never forget - there is power and healing in the shedding of innocent blood. 

Dr. King shed his blood April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy June 5 and yet, from their blood, 40 years later an African American in the lineage of the human rights struggle stood on the steps of the Capitol of the United States, built by enslaved Africans, and was sworn in as president. 

Your blood spilled on this soil has helped to redeem the world. 

We had the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, which soon after led to our Bloody Sunday on March 7, 1965 when Alabama State Troopers attacked John Lewis, Hosea Williams and hundreds of other nonviolent protesters as they marched for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  Dr. King then led a 50-mile march from Selma-to-Montgomery March 21-25 that led to the August 6 signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the most important piece of social legislation of the century, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The moral strength of the righteous is transformative for everybody. 

We’re also familiar with the gerrymander as a political tactic to limit your power.    In my research I found that your oppressors corralled you into one of three overcrowded South wards covering Bogside and Brandywell.  In the United States African Americans and Hispanics have been corralled into overwhelmingly “people of color” districts – a practice called stacking and packing – to dilute our political power.  As a result of racial gerrymandering we have more Black and Hispanic legislators, but both groups have less actual political power.

We also know the sharp pain of job discrimination and housing segregation.  I also found that between 1945 and 1960 92% of all houses allocated to Catholics were in the South Ward.  In the U.S. it’s called redlining and denial of capital for housing loans resulting in segregated housing.  And employment discrimination against Catholics is no stranger to African Americans either. 

We also experienced, and continue to experience, what you faced - internment.  The U.S has more people incarcerated, 2.2 million, than any other nation on earth, and because of previous incarceration and the voting laws growing out of this imprisonment, and 5.8 million ex-felons are currently denied the right to vote.  African Americans, Hispanics and poor people disproportionately represent these millions of disenfranchised voters. 

The fight to democratize democracy is far from over. Today, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition seeks Automatic Voter Registration at age 18, which we’ve now won in 9 states.  We also continue to push hard for a Constitutional right to vote, not just a states’ right. 

So we saw you.  We felt you.  We identified with you.  You were never alone!

 

 

CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP 

It has been a difficult political season. The loser won by three million votes. It makes the rule in democracy of one person, one vote stand on its head. 

It was an ugly campaign season of name calling and demeaning opposition. It was a season of threats of banning Muslims, locking out refugees, building a 2,000 mile long wall between us and Mexico, revising the disconnect with Cuba, challenging the birthplace and legitimacy of President Obama. 

It got even uglier with Russian hacking and the suppression of the black vote. Suppression played a huge role in the campaign but was rarely discussed, let alone, investigated. 

Democracy is better than that. 

If the votes are transparent, the loser can accept the outcome with dignity, the winner can accept victory with grace. But it must be fair. It must be transparent.  

Even today we are in great disarray over the unfinished business of that campaign. 

President Trump is emasculating civil rights efforts through federal policy, departments, agencies and divisions.

 

 

CONCLUSION

The pattern of communities struggling for freedom, justice and democracy is essentially the same. Where there is no justice there can be no peace.  As Dr. King often reminded us, peace is not the absence of noise but the presence of justice.

And those who make peaceful protest impossible make violent rebellion inevitable.  Again, Dr. King said, “The genius of America’s Constitution is, it grants citizens the right to protest for the right.”

The museum in Free Derry has correctly put the struggle that took place here in the context of the broader struggle for human freedom, peace and justice everywhere.  The struggle in Northern Ireland is a part and must be seen in the broader context of the worldwide struggle for human dignity and democracy.

The struggle in Northern Ireland is part of the struggle for democracy in other parts of Europe, South Africa and Africa generally.  It’s part of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the Sunni-Shite internecine religious civil war, along with the other struggles in the Middle East.  We must see Northern Ireland as part of the various struggles for democracy and justice in South and Central America and Mexico.  And you are part of the 246-year struggle against slavery, another 95 years of legal segregation and the on-going struggle for social, economic and political justice in the U.S., along with the ongoing struggles of Native Americans who were murdered, displaced and had their land stolen.

Northern Ireland is part of the struggles of women for greater freedom and equality (including the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram), the struggle for dignity and opportunity in the disabled community, the quest for acceptance of their humanity and justice for gays and lesbians, the environmental cause of saving our planet, the struggle to end poverty in the world, the struggle for food, water, safety, security, jobs, education, health care, shelter and housing for everyone.

Finally, we must affirm human rights for all human beings and measure human rights by one yard stick. Ours is a long struggle. The price of justice is worth the journey. Don’t give up because it’s difficult. Deep water does not drown you. You drown when you stop kicking.

In the darkness be assured the Lord is our light and our salvation. Fear not. Though we weep sometimes, joy cometh in the morning.

When we struggle we must not allow our temporary defeats and setbacks to break our spirit.  We must maintain tender hearts, but always be tough minded.  Cynicism must be overcome with a never-turn-back defiance and negativity must be defeated with an unrelenting will.  We must never become bitter but become better and never close ourselves off to an opening or an offer to negotiate a just peace.

Reconciliation of extremes is often seen as impractical. The question was raised Biblically, when will there be peace in the valley?

That’s when lions and lambs lay together.

That seemed so extreme, so farfetched. Lions are powerful and eat lambs for sport. Lambs cannot trust lions and lions feel lambs are too weak to negotiate with.

What I have found negotiating the release of captured soldiers and innocent hostages in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Cuba, Yugoslavia is that you keep the peace by finding what extremes have in common.

Neither lions nor lambs want the forest to catch on fire. Neither lions nor lambs want acid rain on their back, to be blown away in a violent windstorm.

Surely, if lions and lambs – lowercase animals – can find a formula for peace, we, just a little lower than angels, a little less than God, can find the elusive formula.  

 

In short, we must always keep hope alive!

Thank you very much.