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Listen to the CNV Conference Call with Jim Lawson!

Posted by Ryan Hall
08.31.16
Read the notes from the call 1
Rev. James Lawson

Rev. James Lawson

On August 30th we held our most recent Campaign Nonviolence Conference Call with special guest Rev. James Lawson.  If you missed the call, you can listen to the audio by clicking on the link below. Below the audio link are highlights of his opening reflections as well.

Thank you to all those who joined us and to all those preparing for the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions Sept. 18-25, 2015.  We’ve now got over 500 nonviolent actions planned!

We will have one more call before the CNV Action Week on September 13, 2016 at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern.  You can RSVP here for that call.

I am very pleased to be here and to have the chance to visit with you in this fashion. I want to say that it is great news to hear that over 500 actions are planned throughout the country and other countries for September.

Now given the size of the issue and the focus of the issues, this seems relatively small and a drop in the bucket, but I will share that there must be millions of such efforts, in my judgement, especially in the United States of America. This country is the Roman Empire of the twentieth century, and the twenty first century, whether we want to admit this or not.

The Constitution says “We the people of the United State of America.” It does not say the Corporations or the States or the Colonies of that time – it says “we the people” and that is not studied enough or debated enough.  The point I want to make is that if “we the people” are to be saved from ourselves and saved from the spiritual forces of wickedness which throughout these past four or five hundred years have inundated and affected this democratic experiment, if these actions do not become part of some protracted major and local campaigns of nonviolent actions, I think we are going to be in for a great disaster.

I was thinking this week, for example, that some years ago a great historian in Great Britain predicted that the Third World War would be a nuclear exchange which would begin in the Middle East. That has never played out, but we are in a situation which no one seems to be aware of:  five nations with nuclear weapons are bombing together in the Middle East–in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and throughout Central Asia. They are Russia, France, Great Britain, and the United States. The fifth is not bombing but it has the atom bomb–Israel.  So five nations possessing nuclear weapons are in a broil of unimaginable entanglement and complexity.  And it has to be said that all this violence over the past eighty years has no place to go except towards greater and greater harm and disaster and catastrophe. This build up of violence cannot solve the problems of the families, of work, of religion, or of governments in that part of the world. It just leads to further bombings. This violence has nowhere to go except in a downward chaotic direction.

So campaigns of nonviolence must emerge and grow and continue. Remember: the great campaigns of the 20th century which did so much good for our nation – the women’s movement in 1910-1920, the workers’ movement, the union movement, the Civil Rights movement–brought improvement to the lives of millions and millions of people. This is not talked about in the public discussion but it is true.  Social security did not get passed because the Chamber of Commerce willed it; it got passed because of the marching feet of the millions of striking people, working people in all sorts of companies, in almost every state, by the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people. That’s how Social Security began, how the New Deal Happened, how the Union movement developed. We in the twenty first century must involve more than all that happened in the twentieth century, if the direction of history will be changed for the better for ourselves as a nation and for the world. Otherwise, it will only get worse. It cannot get better under the present circumstances. We need to begin to understand what that means in terms of our work together.

Today I was involved in a demonstration at the Detention Center in downtown L.A. Over the years, I have been arrested there for more issues that those solely connected to racism. Some of my friends and colleagues in the immigration and human rights movements have formed a coalition called “Faith Organizing,” and had planned a march from the Mexican-US border into L.A. They announced they would arrive this morning and so we had a gathering outside the Detention Center which is a concrete building with little slivers of windows for the prisoners. We held a rally and then marched from there to the Bonaventure Hotel where a group of Christian developers, about 300 of them, are meeting tomorrow night for a conference.

It was very impactful for me to reunite with a colleague of mine from Mississippi, John M. Perkins; some of you may know him. We had a fantastic reunion and I pointed out to this crowd of people that our gathering ostensibly and primarily about the deportation issue and the racism and tyranny of the immigration system and especially our despising of the large number of people of color who are without papers in the United States—included two of us directly linked to the Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks civil rights generation who developed the nonviolent approach to social change. The march over the last fifteen days and the continued agitation of the immigration community for human rights is in direct linkage to the Montgomery bus boycott and the Civil Rights movement which we began. (Actually, the Civil Rights Movement as a name is a misnomer in the sense that it was a movement of all people. In our focus to break Jim Crow law and desegregate public life in America, we were attacking discrimination against anyone.)

In 1870, when the KKK first formed, they were a Christian group that said that all people of color, not only the ex-slave, but all people of color are created by a satanic figure and not by the God of Moses or Jesus. It’s astonishing but that is the story behind much of the tyranny in the United States today, behind much of the violence that we are seeing.

So I’m saying that we must see our struggle–whether we are working for immigration rights, or for desegregating something or for unions, for jobs, for better wages, or for the eradication of inequality for women, or for whatever specific campaign we are waging—within the context of the long struggle of human beings in the United States over the past centuries to break with oppression and the disunion of the human race, as part of the long historical struggle of people in our history to breathe in the fresh air of equality, liberty,  justice, and the beloved community.

I want to add to that the fact that we must refuse increasingly to use single words to symbolize our work. In our struggle in the United States, equality, liberty and justice for all must become our watch cry. The people that call for freedom in the United States mean something quite different from what the Declaration of Independence says or what the scriptures say, such as “you have been set free” or what the Exodus represents as the central pillar for Judaism and should also be a central journey for Christians. We are all set free from the old Pharoahs and old Egypts into the infinite possibilities of the human family and the Promised Land, which is metaphorical but true.

Isaiah 55: 17-25 speaks of God working for a new heaven and a new earth and declares that there will come a time when no baby will be born into calamity.  I like that sentence as a part of my own vision for the future.

So the point I am making is that the Martin Luther King or Fanny Lou Hamer wing of the movement in the South-eastern part of the country put a finger on a pivotal position. It helped lead LGBTQ people to organize; women to organize; Hispanics to organize; Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers to organize the great boycott; students to organize; and so forth. We need to develop the language so that every action, every struggle for change, is seen as a part of the total struggle, of the long history of nonviolent struggle. That is essential.

In my talk this morning, I said that every campaign and every movement must learn the language of nonviolence, the language of the Beloved Community. Imitating the language of the culture and its wrongs will not help bring to fulfilment the Beloved Community, the will of God on earth. We have to change the way we talk about ourselves and the way we treat ourselves. Any and every campaign has to learn the language of love, compassion, respect, and trust. We have to be careful about how we talk about each other, the way we treat each other and the way we struggle.

For me, as a Christian, there is no more adventurous struggle for life than the call of Jesus to “follow me,” which is the call to not hurt people, the call to seek the Promised Land and the infinite possibilities of the human race. There is no more adventurous struggle than that adventure. That is what I have discovered in my own life over eight decades.

So the effort to plan these actions and events in September must help people to learn new habits–  the language and the music and the worship and the dialogues and the conversations of the Beloved community. When I began teaching in the South in 1958 in Nashville and in the years that followed, one of my cardinal principles of teaching was that we ourselves have to mirror the politics of the Beloved Community that we seek in our nonviolent struggles. I also like to call these “the politics of Jesus,” or “the politics of God.” Those politics have to become the primary form of our own personal politics. There is no way we can go forward through the imposition of the West on the world, or the superiority of Western civilization. We have to live out the politics of the Beloved Community.

Those of us who love and wish to serve God must see our work as the most critical work in the world. We must see our work as the only work that makes us, that makes new people and offers the potential for new worlds and new nations. I am pleased to say those things in this opening remark. Thank you.

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