When the moral arc of the universe feels more like a roller-coaster

When the moral arc of the universe feels more like a roller-coaster June 27, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. (paraphrasing Theodore Parker) once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I want to believe that’s true. I have to believe that’s true. But after this week, I’m beginning to think that Dr. King’s arc looks more like a roller-coaster.

Of course, Dr. King certainly knows better than I ever will that justice doesn’t just happen, and that no matter how many strides you make forward, someone’s always going to be trying to push you back.

This week, Wendy Davis stood for 13 hours for reproductive justice. She didn’t eat or drink for those 13 hours. She didn’t get a bathroom break. She wasn’t allowed to lean on anyone. She stood and filibustered an oppressive law for 13 hours  and when the GOP decided that she wasn’t allowed to filibuster any longer because someone helped her with her back-brace and because she talked about Planned Parenthood and sonograms, the amazing reproductive justice advocates and democratic representatives of Texas took over. (If you haven’t already, watch these videos of the event)

Wendy Davis, in her pink sneakers, helped the people of Texas take one step closer to justice.

CREDIT: JANA BIRCHUM (click for source)

But today, before we even get a chance to celebrate with folks in Texas, Ohio residents must get up and rally against reproductive injustice.  And back in Texas, Rick Perry is already planning to try again to pass the bill that Wendy and the reproductive justice advocates of Texas derailed. As Wendy said, fighting the folks who are trying to take away reproductive freedom is “a full-time job.”

Then, I woke up this morning to the beautiful news that major sections of DOMA have been struck down, ensuring more rights for many LGBTQ Americans.

Image via PBS News Hour (click for link)

But these rights don’t apply to couples who are in states that have instituted bans on same-sex marriage. This decision will hopefully help end some stigma surrounding LGBTQ people, but overall it does nothing to provide for the immediate needs of the 20-40% of homeless youth who are LGBTQ (note that only 5-10% of the youth population is LGBTQ. These numbers are disturbingly disproportionate). It won’t change the fact that LGBTQ youth are 8.4 times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide, or the fact that 41% (that’s nearly half, my friends–compare that to 16% of the general population) of trans* people have attempted suicide.

And as we celebrate these tremendous victories, we cannot, CANNOT forget the staggering blow to justice that happened Tuesday morning. As the Alliance for Justice puts it,

Today, by overturning a crucial part of the Voting Rights Act, five justices betrayed the principles of justice and fairness embodied in this law for half a century—and showed a callous disregard for the realities still faced by people of color.

The right to vote is foundational, and by getting rid of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act–an act that men and women marched and died for–the Supreme Court threw open the gates for oppressive governments to strip away that right from many people of color. In case you think I’m exaggerating, realize that this process of stripping away rights has all ready begun. 

Oh, and in case you’re tempted to ignore this because it doesn’t effect you personally, first of all, quit pretending to give a shit about justice if all you want are your rights. Second of all, wake up. No one is free while anyone else is oppressed. If you tweeted this week that you #StandWithWendy, you need Section 4. Without this section of the VRA, Wendy Davis probably wouldn’t even be in office

There’s this temptation, in doing justice work, to think that the arc of the moral universe that Dr. King talked about is straight forward, as if we are “here” at “injustice,” and all we need to do is get “there” to “justice.” Point A to Point B, plain and simple. This is especially true when we’re talking about oppressions that do not effect us personally. 

There’s a temptation to be satisfied with our group’s victories, even to gain these victories by stepping on the backs of other oppressed groups. But this moral arc, it’s more like a roller-coaster, and when the groups in other cars take a dip because of injustice, we’re naive if we think it won’t effect our group, and we’re acting as oppressors if we try to take advantage of it.

This moral arc, it bends toward justice, but it’s long, and it’s winding, and it’s filled with ups and downs that can be so violent and frustrating they make you sick.

But it does bend toward justice. Oh, god, I have to believe it does.

So let’s put on our pink sneakers, let’s nourish ourselves with celebratory wedding cake, and then let’s get up and keep fighting for our own rights, while supporting those around us as they fight for theirs.

We’re not done here.

We will not be done until there is justice for all.

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  • Great summation Sarah and fantastic to see your perspective on Patheos. Thanks from a fellow Patheos Spirituality blogger.~Tom

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Thanks Tom!

  • Brilliant again, Sarah.

  • Knocked it out of the park with this one, Sarah.

  • Nicole Resweber


  • samantha k

    It was section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that was struck down (though it makes section 5 pretty damn worthless given that all the preclearance restrictions have disappeared on all the “Jim Crow” states). Such a blatant betrayal on the part of the SCOTUS.

    Plenty of good and bad mixed together, though it seems that at the moment the bad outclasses the good.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      Ah, thanks! I updated the post.

    • Gordon Duffy

      I’m hoping that this will take pre-clearance nationwide.

      • samantha k

        That would be the best response, but with the lack of momentum in congress, I don’t see how it will happen. Then there’s the fact that a bunch of the former preclearance states will have already passed voter-disenfranchising laws by the soonest it could be re-established.

  • pennyroyal

    the ‘arc of the ….universe’ quote comes from Rev. Howard Thurman. Please put a correction in.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      It actually seems to be a paraphrase of a Theodore Parker quote. I’ve updated the post adding that.

      • pennyroyal

        Thanks. Theodore Parker was the Unitarian minister from West Roxbury, MA, now part of Boston. When Howard Thurman used it, everyone would have known it’s history and Parker’s anti-slavery efforts. Parker was also a mystic and a Trancendentalist. Interesting history.
        Howard Thurman was a great man and minister, highly respected. He tried to get into Andover College which was all white but admission was denied. So he went to Boston University, I believe. Thurman was a mystic, too, and his writings, including his prayers, are wonderful.
        Andover College later joined with another seminary (both were for men) and became Andover Newton Theological Seminary and is open and affirming of diversity. It’s where my husband and I attended seminary. http://www.ants.edu. The point of this is that the original Andover College lost out educating an exemplary and important religious figure. Their loss was BU’s gain!

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Funny, what you think of as Justice, I see as incredible levels of discrimination (against the unborn, against those whose sexuality isn’t either homo or hetero, against the religions that actually might imply that there is a morality to sexuality).