Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure…
What do you do with a belief so radical that even the people who came up with it couldn’t fully live it?
What do you do when, more than 200 years later, that principle still hasn’t been fulfilled?
What do you do when you live in safety while others live in fear?
What do you do when the price of your safety is their fear?
What do you do when groups of people live systematically proscribed lives?
What do you do when the power to take life is exercised without accountability?
Do you pretend it can’t be true because it means your own life rests, at least in part, on a bedrock of injustice?
Does the reality of your complicity and privilege so threaten your sense of yourself that you become angry at those without power? Do you, as you have been taught, hold them in contempt for their misfortune?
Do you admit (to yourself) it’s true, shrug and turn away?
Do you just thank god it isn’t happening to you, or your children?
Do you shake your head and hope somebody does something, but decide that it’s too much for you to take on?
Or do you finally recognize that without justice, there can be no law? Do you finally understand that where laws are applied inequitably, where justice is denied and can be denied at any moment to those without status and power, that in such a world no one can be safe because safety is and always has been a function of the quality of a community? And do you see, at long last, that where there is no justice there are no real rules, where there are no rules there is no true community, and where there is no community, there can be no for safety for anyone?
If you come to understand these final truths, then it may dawn on you that the revolution begun more than 200 years ago, and resumed in armed conflict more than 80 years after, and moved forward in law 50 years ago, has yet to conclude. It may dawn on you that this revolution cannot end until those denied their due power for whatever reason no longer have to carry the weight of injustice alone. Until ending the subjugation of women becomes also the active cause of men; until ending hunger becomes also the cause of the well fed; until ending poverty becomes also the work of the comfortable; until answering for the unjust of death of any person becomes also work of everyone in the community.
Of course, this exceeds the sentiments of those who began this revolution, just as Lincoln’s words went beyond those of the Constitutional convention; just as the 19th Amendment superseded the views of women as non-persons; just as Brown v. Topeka shattered “separate but equal.” Revolutions are like that; they grow with unanticipated force. In this way, starting a revolution is like raising a family: You raise your children with a set of principles, and before you know it, unaccountably, they expect you to live up to them in ways you never envisioned.
Maybe when you face this and accept the truth of it, maybe then, please whatever god or gods you believe in, you will finally pick up your share of this weight too.
Yet, if God wills that (the war) continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether”