#SelmaIsNow: Interfaith Justice Work

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON STATE OF FORMATION, AN ONLINE PUBLICATION FOR EMERGING RELIGIOUS AND ETHICAL LEADERS WHICH WAS FOUNDED AS AN OFFSHOOT OF THE JOURNAL OF INTERRELIGIOUS STUDIES, HOUSED AT CIRCLE, A SHARED CENTER AT HEBREW COLLEGE AND ANDOVER NEWTON THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL.

On March 8, 2015, I was in Selma, Alabama, along with about 70,000 other people. Together, we were marching, consecrating the act that brave women and men had engaged in 50 years before to march for voting rights in the face of police brutality.

I was lucky enough to be there because I had received a scholarship to go to the Marching in the Arc of Justice conference, organized by the Unitarian Universalist Living Legacy Project, held in Alabama that weekend. Hundreds of UUs heard from veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and those doing justice work now, and about 500 of us marched in the 50th anniversary march.

As an avid Twitter user, I tweeted much of the conference, and I also got to see some of the trending hashtags around the event. One that struck me most was #SelmaIsNow. Those ten letters said so much, highlighting the tension between honoring the past and working in the present.

I thought of it when listening to President Obama’s speech on Saturday. If you saw the televised broadcast, you may have noticed a point in his eloquent speech when shouts and chants, most indecipherable, punctuated the background. He did not hesitate, undistracted by the sound. They faded from the broadcast soon.

They were #BlackLivesMatter protesters, holding up portraits of people of color killed by the police and chanting about Ferguson and democracy. They were soon quieted by security.

#SelmaIsNow.

I felt honored to be at Selma, to walk in the historic footsteps of my Civil Rights era heroes, but I sensed this tension deeply. The president’s speech versus the chanting protestors. Celebrating the past. Acting on the problems of the present.

For me, my biggest takeaway (though I had others about white ally-ship, that I’ve written about here) from that weekend was that the example of our spiritual ancestors in justice movements should inspire us to continue their work today–even in ways they may never have imagined (think of the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s emphasis on queer and trans* leadership, or interreligious justice organizing). I came away moved and fired up to be part of shaping this new era of justice work, as a Millennial and a woman and a Unitarian Universalist. The future, my friends, belongs to all of us.

This Saturday, I will be marching in the BLACK & BROWN LIVES UNITED: Martin Luther King Legacy March in Los Angeles. Here’s a list of some of the organizations endorsing it:

Southern Christian Leadership Conference- Los Angeles
CLUE- LA BBCC-Black Brown Clergy Committee
CLUE BJJA-Black Jewish Justice Alliance
LA Raise the Wage Campaign
Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries
CLEAN Carwash Campaign
CHIRLA
ACLU
Congregation Shtibl Minyan
Faith United Methodist Church
Hamilton United Methodist Church
SEIU USWW – United Service Workers West
Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Western American Province
Holman United Methodist Church
Justice Not Jails
The Row- The Church Without Walls
Music Justice and Power
Critical Resistance- Los Angeles
Project Islamic Hope
National Action Network
Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign
Los Angeles Brown Berets
Barbed Wire Roses
Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society
Progressive Christians Uniting
Praise Chapel International
FAME Church Los Angeles-Hispanic Ministry/ Ministry of Diversity
Christ Liberation Ministries
The California Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church,
End Mass Incarceration Task Force.
One In Christ Bible Church
The “Urban Church Association”
The Labor Community Strategy Center
La Poverty Department
SMRS/UCEPP 10
Alcohol Justice 5
American Indian in Film and Television
Committee for Racial Justice Santa Monica 30
Coalition to ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property
First United Methodist Church of Los Angeles
Occupy Fights Foreclosures
LA CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network)
Azusa Street Mission & Historical Society, inc
Los Angeles Workers Assembly
NewsongLa Covenant Church
Topanga Peace Alliance
MLK Coalition of Greater Los Angeles
North Hills United Methodist Mission
Reclaiming Los Angeles.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA
Chapel of Peace Lutheran Church
KIWA
UNITE HERE Local 11

For me, looking at that (still-growing!) list is an inspiration. It is an interreligious, interracial, and intercultural mix. It is a vision of what our justice work should look like–what we should strive for. It is 21st century liberative work.

The arc toward justice is long, as King told us, but it is bending. We are bending it. From Selma to Los Angeles. From 1965 to 2015. From the Civil Rights Movement to #BlackLivesMatter. Ever more diverse, ever more pluralistic, we are moving forward together. Especially among those of us who are young and committed to interfaith action, these are values we should carry in our hearts, marching together.