Like many of you on Vashon, I see myself as a racial and social justice advocate. Growing up in the south (Nashville, Tenn., to be precise), I spoke in favor of integration at a time when many of my cohorts condemned that position as downright blasphemous. So yes, I am old, and I’ve been at this work for a very long time.
I left the south in my 20s, expecting to find a more generous and open-minded sphere once I crossed the dreaded Mason Dixon Line. Instead, I found much the same, wrapped in a more subtle package — less magnolia and more Starbucks. Even on our self-declared progressive island, I have witnessed a confederate flag flying free near the center of town, learned of swastikas haphazardly slashed across a building wall and the ‘N’ word hurled at certain students of color in our schools’ hallowed halls.
I would ask readers to consider their initial response to these images — are you more shocked because these words and symbols represent something deeply ugly in our midst or because this sort of thing couldn’t possibly happen on Vashon? I continue to wrestle with the deeply embedded institutional and individual racism that pervades our country, our region, and, yes, even our island.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said a whole lot more than “I have a dream.” He proclaimed in 1965, in Selma, Alabama, “We’re going to stand up amid anything they can muster up, letting the world know that we are determined to be free!” During his 1967 speech at the Riverside Church, he exhorted, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
Like many of his prophetic words, Dr. King’s call-for-response rings true now more than ever. As we teeter on the brink of war in the Middle East, cringe from the cries of immigrants at our southern border and the recent harassment of Iranian-Americans trapped under a Peace Arch to the north, and read daily of police brutality against black and brown members of our human community, I have to ask myself, “now what?”
As a 71-year-old woman, I feel an intense urgency to act and feel time running out both personally, nationally and globally. As a white woman, I am compelled by the words of journalist Anne Braden, a white peer and supporter of Dr. King, who wrote, “In a sense, the battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of white people in this country. The fight against racism is not something we’re called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved as if our lives depended on it because, in truth, they do.”
I heed these words daily as my personal mantra, reminding me of the commitment I made so long ago to fight against injustices of all kinds. I urge each of you to find what propels you forward; what makes you bold even when you feel hesitant or afraid; and what compels you to take up the mantle of activists, famous and forgotten; and, despite busy lives or a sense of inadequacy, what makes you declare: “Yes! count me in!”
As we gather to celebrate and honor Dr. King next Monday on Vashon, we are also issuing a call to action: What will each of us do in large and small ways to bend that arc toward justice?
Racial/climate/social/ethnic/gender/religious – the list goes on. No matter how old or young, it’s on each of us to show up, be brave and take a stand – because the fierce urgency is truly now.
Janie Starr is a racial and social justice activist on the island who is part of a number of groups, including Showing Up for Racial Justice and Indivisible Vashon.