In the first days of the new year, May Boeve, 350.org’s Executive Director, and Natalia Cardona, Justice & Equity Manager – were invited to attend a gathering of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s surviving team members. The gathering was convened as an expression of the fierce urgency of the moral emergency the United States is facing as a democracy. The invitation was made by the Gandhi King Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice in part because of 350.org US’s involvement in the Poor People’s Campaign. It took place at Sunnylands, Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s 200-acre winter home in Rancho Mirage, California where for decades they welcomed political, business, educational, and entertainment leaders.
It was an honor for both of us to join this gathering of iconic leaders and we welcomed the opportunity to have time to discuss with and learn from Rev. King’s team and a cadre of social movement leaders of today. People like Desmond Meade, President Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, one of the coalitions responsible for advocating for and winning the right to vote for formerly imprisoned people in Florida. Or people like Latosha Brown, Co-Founder/Chief Doer of the Black Voters Matter Fund, a power-building, southern-based civic engagement organization that played an instrumental role in the 2017 Alabama U.S. Senate Race.
For us this opportunity triggered certain feelings about our journey in this and other movements and our ties to faith-based organizing. For May, it brought back memories of Will, Jeremy, and Jamie—some of 350.org’s founding members—reading Taylor Branch’s Pillar of Fire when they were students at Middlebury. She finally had the opportunity to read it 10 years later while on sabbatical. For Natalia, it brought back memories of the sanctuary movement, her work with the American Friends Service Committee(AFSC) and the centrality of Rev. King’s teachings to the Peace Movement in the United States. She remembers learning about Bayard Rustin and many others while working at AFSC, a central part of her “growing up” in the peace movement.
Like any gathering we began by introducing ourselves. May introduced herself by explaining how, although the Civil Rights Movement had deeply influenced 350.org to build a mass movement to tackle climate change, we had done so without centering the role of racial equity. This is a thread that rose up for her in conversations with different leaders and in particular when speaking to LaTosha Brown about our work on equity and what it meant to have the first people of color join 350.org’s staff. May shared what they noticed and the questions these staff raised about the need for change within our organization and in terms of centering racial equity. Today, 350.org is pursuing a global process to center diversity, equity and inclusion at the organization.
As we moved into conversation the question of the connection between violence and power arose. Elders from Rev. King’s surviving team spoke about how violence and power were becoming opposites. They see that the more violence there is, the less power we have. For Natalia this conversation was a lived experience. Reflecting on the role of violence in Guatemala’s civil war, her home country, she shared a perspective of how violence impacts not just the oppressed but also the oppressor. She sees this result in increased rates of violence against women and children in Guatemala and an epidemic level of generalized violence. The parallels continue even further with the push in the United States to militarize political questions. Including the militarized and violent response to immigrants fleeing violence (often began by U.S. military intervention), drought exacerbated by climate, and poverty many times deepened by unjust trade agreements with countries like the United States.
Finally, no gathering of Rev. King’s team would be complete without prayer, song and speaking to the role of faith in keeping us moving forward in this long term struggle for justice. We were struck by a Jewish faith leader’s assertion that vulnerability is the beginning of prayer and her call to us to translate our experience of prayer into good deeds for others.
Left to right on couch: Clarence B. Jones, J.T. Johnson, Clayborne Carson, Gerald L. Durley, Bob Moses, and Janet Moses
To read more about the Gathering, here is an article written by Jonathan Capehart from the Washington Post and here is the resulting statement from the Gathering calling for a new moral fusion social movement on a mass scale.
P.S. The Elders gave us some reading “assignments” that we want to share with you: