Published:Friday, January 13, 2023
Of the many things Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about, one idea continues to captivate me – the concept of the Beloved Community. Reflecting on MLK Day this year I am asking myself, does this idea of the Beloved Community continue to resonate? What does it mean in the context we are living in today? And how does this powerful concept inform our ongoing fight for civil rights and civil liberties?
The Beloved Community
King’s vision of the Beloved Community arose from many sources in theological, political and movement spheres. As his own thinking evolved, so did his definition of the Beloved Community. Yet, in summary, the Beloved Community describes a community to which we all belong, in which all live in freedom. King described it as a space of social equity and belonging, peace, and freedom from prejudice. The King Center describes it as a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.
In King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he noted that, “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.” To me, this means we cannot say we are living in that “all-inclusive spirit” of siblinghood which defines the Beloved Community while others around us suffer from injustice. Members of our community live unhoused on our streets, find themselves unable to receive the full range of medical care, are harmed by the actions of law enforcement, or have criminal penalties heaped on them that exceed any definable justification for punishment or rehabilitation. As a society, we tolerate too much mistreatment of each other – far beyond what human decency dictates. For those who hold the Beloved Community as a goal, we have far to go.
Critical Challenges We Face Today
We live in challenging times. I all too often find myself shaking my head and wondering, “What is happening to democracy itself?” Nationally, we are fighting against voter suppression in ways that recall the civil rights battles of the 1960s. The system of governmental checks and balances identified by those who drafted the Constitution is seemingly completely misunderstood by many members of the populace, including a number who serve in national elected office. Some favor uncivil discourse and grandstanding above the good of the people. And we continue to face a concerted effort to reduce faith in our systems, especially voting, with false claims of corruption and ongoing efforts to discredit systems that have been audited and found trustworthy.
Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court cases represented a significant setback for civil rights and civil liberties. In decisions that were out of step with a majority of the public, the court limited our rights and liberties. Tribal sovereignty was reduced; Miranda rights have been encroached; lines were blurred in the separation of church and state; and, with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the rights of so many women and pregnant people were decimated by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In the wake of Dobbs, we enter an era marked by a patchwork of oppressive laws, varying from state to state, which make abortion a crime, and place pregnant people and medical professionals in physical and legal jeopardy.
If the presence of injustice demonstrates a failure to live up to the standards of the Beloved Community, then we must look ourselves squarely in the mirror and acknowledge we are falling short. And we need to act. At the ACLU-WA and at ACLU all around the country that is exactly what we are doing.
The ACLU-WA’s Work in Support of the Beloved Community
When the State Legislature convened earlier this month the ACLU-WA was ready. Our organization is prepared with a legislative agenda that pursues critical criminal legal system reforms, moves to protect people’s privacy by requiring companies to be transparent and accountable with their use of people’s data, and works to expand access to abortion and to safeguard the privacy of health care data.
In the criminal legal arena, the ACLU-WA, in collaboration with formerly and currently incarcerated allies, seeks to advance justice, health, and safety, prevent recidivism, and save money by reforming outdated sentencing laws for both juveniles and adults.
Along with formerly and currently incarcerated survivors of solitary confinement and allies, we are also working to pass legislation to ban the long-term use of solitary confinement in our state prisons and long-term detention centers – a system of torture that must go.
Recognizing the need for people to more have control over how their data is used, the ACLU-WA, in collaboration with the Tech Equity Coalition, is working to pass the People’s Privacy Act. It would require companies to get opt-in consent before collecting, using, and sharing people’s data and give people the power to enforce their privacy rights by taking companies to court for violations.
With the end of Roe, Washington is now more than ever an important resource for people who live in states that criminalize abortion. ACLU-WA is working with a coalition of allies to increase funding for abortion care, pass legislation that expands abortion access, remove barriers to care and provide abortion care. Access to health care also requires protecting the privacy of health care data. To that end, we are pursuing a health data privacy bill with strong protections against abuse of people’s data – an especially critical safeguard in the wake of the overturn of Roe.
As we commit to this year’s work, to protecting and expanding civil rights and civil liberties, I am reminded that arriving at King’s Beloved Community will require all of us to keep moving forward guided by a vision of our destination – one that is defined by equity and inclusion for every beloved member of our community.