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On World Day of Social Justice, Don’t Forget the “World”

As the U.S. wades into our primary elections, we Americans risk turning further inward at the expense of the rest of the world. And that would be a mistake.

While there are many issues within our country, a sole focus on our nation places our safety, security, prosperity, and freedom at risk – and the future of social justice.

Social justice is not just a national issue. And internationalism is not a partisan notion. Republicans since Eisenhower have made some of the strongest cases for it.

“To be true to one’s own freedom is, in essence, to honor and respect the freedom of others.” – Dwight D Eisenhower

In his letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. made famous statements about the necessity of political organizing across states nationally to combat injustice. I find that it rings equally true across the world:  

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Niemoller made one of the most powerful cases for standing up for those different from us after World War II against the Nazis.

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” –  Martin Niemoller

Niemoller’s famous lines show that upholding justice for others is intrinsically tied with securing justice and freedom for ourselves. Audre Lorde calls out this connection:

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”  – Audre Lorde

But when we allow inequality and for other humans’ suffering, we dilute the principles of “justice” and “freedom.” Nelson Mandela says we have a charge to break these shackles:

 “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” — Nelson Mandela

When we water down the principles of social justice, we undermine human progress. Every failure to allow another human being to achieve their full potential diminishes humanity as a whole.

We lose so much talent that could help solve the world’s problems by the ways in which we diminish, limit, and exclude hundreds of millions of people through discrimination and prejudice here in the US and around the world.

By refusing to address poverty, violence, and forced displacement globally, we fuel discrimination and injustice. More than just limiting the ability to solve the world’s problems, we widen the gap of inequality. The problems of the world worsen.

Ella Baker says it best about what’s at stake:

"Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.” – Ella Baker

I believe that our best selves as human beings are made out of generosity and love – not fear and anger. The problems we face as a nation are tied to the problems of the world. We cannot address one without the other.

By closing the gap of inequality worldwide, we expand the potential not just of the individual but of our whole world. We expand opportunity.

Where privilege and inequality divide us and where arrogance closes the mind, the pursuit of equality breaks the barriers that keep people down because of their gender, race, culture, ethnicity, age, disability, or religion. In opening our experiences to the world, we expand learning.

And by sharing rights, resources, and empathy with people everywhere, we expand power.

Whatever your reasons, whatever your political party, whatever your calling: There is a reason to connect, invest, and learn beyond our borders. 

So on this World Day of Social Justice, I ask you to share: What is your reason?

woman with headscarf

”Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” —Dalai Lama