Addressing Systemic Injustice: Why Everyone Needs To Be At The Table

Last December, NWEI published a statement about Our Common Dream – NWEI’s Commitment to Equity. While we have long seen justice as an integral part of our sustainability vision, in recent years it has become clear that a successful sustainability movement must also reflect the truly diverse landscape of our communities.

Today we are heartbroken, joining a nation grieving the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, along with so many other black lives taken too early and unjustly by the people who are sworn to protect them. We are also grieving the murders of the police officers killed in Dallas.

As an organization, we are committed to inspiring people to connect with their communities and work towards a healthy, sustainable future. We often talk about how “everyone needs to be at the table” – and how everyone can be part of the solution. We believe in the power of diversity of response from a variety of sectors and in a multitude of contexts. The same sentiment applies to the culture of structural violence and systemic racism. We believe the current story of our culture must transcend politics and the notion of an “us” versus “them.” We believe the narrative needs to shift as we work together to create a more just and healthy world for all.

The stories of unnecessary loss of life in the past few days and years are heartbreaking. These are just a few:

July 17, 2014, Eric Garner couldn’t breathe when a police officer put him in an illegal choke hold after approaching him for illegally selling cigarettes. He was pronounced dead one hour later.

November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice was a 12 year old on a playground holding a toy gun mistaken for a real gun. He was fatally shot by officers within two seconds of officers arriving on the scene.

July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling was fatally shot while police officers knelt on top of him after he had been forced to lie on the ground outside of a convenience store he regularly sold CDs at.

July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot and killed in his car by a police officer during a traffic stop. He informed the police officer that he had a concealed carry permit and that he was reaching for his license and registration. Philando Castile worked at a Montessori school and his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter were in the car with him when he was killed.

July 7, 2016, 5 police officers in Dallas, Texas were killed in the single deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since September 11, 2001.

As activists and community members who care about creating a more just and healthy world, what can we do when wrestling with the darkness of the environmental destruction, war and violence of our times? How can we respond to the utterly complex systems that often fail us?

Ultimately, we can be the force that integrates all sides. We can remember the invitation that in order to effect real change, “everyone needs to be at the table.”

In the face of polarization and suffering, we can choose compassion – even when perpetrators enact unimaginable horrors. We can keep instilling the values of love, empathy, kindness, and non-violence, and be ready to stand up for what feels right and just as we work to change the massive systems at play.

We can keep cultivating pockets of sanity and health in our communities and organizations, while also being ready to sit together in the unimaginable pain of the seemingly unexplainable.

We can stand up and say that we should not have to choose between valuing the lives of police officers and valuing the lives of the people they are sworn to protect. Instead of choosing easy answers and “either/or” approaches, we can choose “both/and,” opting for dialogue and context and connection and healing. Acknowledging that racism is real, and affects the way we are policed, in no way discredits police officers who work tirelessly to protect and serve. The fact is both realities are true. So what are we going to do about it?

Today, rather than turning away, shutting down, becoming immobile in the face of overwhelm, or turning to distraction, we can serve the world deeply by recommitting to our work together to create change. In the spirit of the meaningful dialogue that happens in NW Earth Institute discussion courses, how can we bring people together to share their stories and consider solutions? How can we encourage diverse perspectives? How can we invite everyone to be a part of making change?

Whatever your response is to the tragedies of the past several days (and years), we hope you will join us in proving that any action, even small, does indeed add up to real change. We hope that you will join us in being a force that strives to integrate all sides, working to transform broken systems into ones that prioritize health, justice and peace for all.

(Editor’s note: If we left a recent event out here, it’s because it was publicized after we wrote this blog. We mourn all violence.)

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