When They Come for One of Us

In 1990, when I was 12 years old, I moved to Durham, NC, a smallish Southern college town. The Durham Jewish community was quaint; two synagogues that shared the Hebrew high school I attended. I only remember there being five Jewish kids in my public high school, including the rabbi’s daughter. Most of the kids at my Hebrew high school went to the private schools across town.

What I learned about being Jewish in a small town is that you stick together. The Jewish community showed up for me at times when my family needed help. The Jewish kids at my school, even though we weren’t necessarily close, watched out for one another. I learned the same thing about being gay. I came out slowly and in stages starting in 10th grade in ’93. There was a badass little contingent of queer kids at my high school— barely out, but fiercely loyal to each other.  What I learned from them was what it meant to show up.  When you come for one of us, you come for all of us. There were “straight but not narrow” kids in our little clique in high school, who were also amazingly loyal to us. They would show up if one of us were getting bullied. As I became more and more involved in organizing, I learned about solidarity, base building, intersectionality and alliances, and saw it in action when the many communities would come out if any one of us were under attack.

After this election, I’ve longed for this definition of solidarity.  If you come for one of us, you come for all of us.  Watching one community after another under attack this year: Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, the LGBT community, Black Live Matter activists, the list goes on. I hoped for a coordinated, organized resistance. I am still in shock how it seemed so many things were in the way of this type of solidarity. Still, at my core, I know that when we truly have the backs of those we say we care about, together we are an immovable and powerful force. Through the shock we are experiencing now there is also an opportunity to focus on what matters and learn better ways to engage and organize more collectively.

Last weekend, I took a Kingian Non-Violence Workshop with the East Point Peace Academy focused on the basic principles of strategic nonviolence. It was energizing to be re-steeped in the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. It was helpful to remember how radical and spiritual his scholarship was, and relevant to today. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, he focused on the struggle against indifference in those who chose what was comfortable over what was just. King writes “ We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny, whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Reminding us not to get siloed into little communities, to think about how our individual struggles connect to larger issues that affect us all.

In the same letter he writes, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”.

In many fights for justice, we are more in danger from the vast majority who do not want to be involved in a fight for justice than the small minority who are actively against it.  In the white communities many of us are a part of, we hear complaints about protests that are louder than the complaints about the injustice that inspired them. There are many who chose not to get involved or take a side, other talk about their “safety” in ways that ignore the safety of others.

What I was inspired by most were the conversations at the workshop on Beloved Community, a term coined by Josiah Royce, the founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and adopted by King. King taught that the work of justice was to constantly move all of us to a place of Beloved Community, not a world where conflict didn’t exist, but one where we would know how to deal with it using the tools of strategic nonviolence. Where we fully understood our interrelatedness and worked together to make sure that everyone had access to all human and civil rights. It is similar to the world envisioned by the value of Tikkun Olam, where we have each done the work to repair the parts of ourselves and the world that are broken.

In studying Jewish principles we learn of Klal Yisrael, that we are all one Jewish people. Each one of us is responsible for all of us.  Given our diversity this is a major feat.  We clearly don’t all agree with each other.  We live all over the world. We encompass every racial group, so whether we all realize it or not, the issues facing people of color are our issues. We include people along every point of the gender spectrum, and people who love in every possible way. We are immigrants and the children of immigrants; our community includes those with disabilities, those experiencing incarceration, and poverty, the young and old. We are secular and religious. And many of us have experienced pain or rejection from the Jewish community. So how do we stay engaged and retain a sense of community? It often feels like we are doing a terrible job of upholding Klal Yisrael, but many of us stay engaged in community trying to bring it closer to one where we all relate, empathize, and work together.

I know if I were being attacked as an individual, I would want someone to take my lead on how I needed help rather than decide that for themselves. I would want them to listen, and come to support me rather than overtake me in the response.  The first step in showing up is to listen, to educate ourselves, to follow the lead of the most impacted. Maybe that is why the word Shema (“to hear” or “to listen”) is the very first word in our most central Jewish prayer.

As LGBT people this can be a scary time. As the political landscape changes we do not know how the advances we have made might be affected. But what is certain is that we can only become stronger by linking our justice work to that of others, by building relationships and being willing to listen. This work is time consuming and hard, and often requires personal growth, but now more than ever we need larger coalitions to shift the tide.

The only hope we have to make the changes we need to see is to speak up, not only for ourselves, but each other. To prove that we are willing to stand up not only when it is easy, but when it’s hard. And right now is the moment to realize that we must be ready to shake up the status quo. Martin Luther King Jr. implored to us that: “Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

My greatest hope is that in this moment we realize the necessity we all have to find common values, common goals to work towards, and invest in relationships and movements amongst and beyond ourselves. That we realize we need each other, and we are willing to show up for each other.  There will be those who will continue to come for us, but we will have built community, we will know each other’s names, we will have listened to each other’s stories, we will have learned how to show up, to protect each other, and we will not be alone.

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