“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.” – Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
Until I see that justice for me is connected to justice for you, there will be no justice for us; and until we see that justice for ‘us’ is connected to justice for ’them,’ there will be no liberty and justice for all.
All justice is interconnected because all justice is based on the inherent worth of each person, and this inherent worth makes a moral claim on the rest of us to respect all other persons in all of their differences and diversity. This includes respecting the inherent worth of non-human forms of life as well because all of life has inherent worth.
For a justice movement to be effective it must be holistic and work for justice for all persons and for all of nature rather than focusing too narrowly on only one or even only a few justice concerns. A victory for justice in one group of persons is a victory for justice for all persons. Civil rights for one group enhance the civil rights for all persons. Racial justice, social justice, economic justice, environmental justice, justice women, and justice for persons who are LGBTQ+ are all interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Justice for one contributes to justice for all. Injustice in our world is systemic, and therefore the work for justice in our world must be systemic as well – it must work to transform the systems that perpetuate all forms of injustice.
It is especially important for the forces of justice to cooperate and collaborate with each other because we know that the forces of injustice are working together very closely and very powerfully. When one group is allowed to profit from injustice, it enhances the ability for others to profit from injustice. This is why corporate interests spend billions of dollars on lobbying to weaken regulations and other barriers that keep them from making maximum profit from socially, economically, and environmentally unjust practices. They have created a well-funded and highly effective network of injustice for the sake of perpetuating their ill-gotten and unjust economic gains. The forces of justice will have to get real about what they are up against and be just as organized and just as committed to move societies in a more just direction.
The systemic nature of justice and injustice can be seen clearly in how social justice and climate justice are inextricably intertwined. Every aspect of social justice is threatened without climate justice, and socially just societies have proven to be the most effective at addressing our climate crisis. The persons, corporations, and organizations most responsible for perpetuating climate injustice are also the most responsible for perpetuating social injustice.
Climate change is damaging the stable ecological community that is needed for economic flourishing. This will increase poverty and human suffering and will create even larger gaps between the rich and the poor in the world, leading to even greater injustice. There can be no lasting justice in the world without a stable climate.
Social justice without climate justice is not sustainable. Climate justice without social justice is not really justice, but rather only the work for a livable climate. A livable climate allows for the possibility of justice, but true justice is for both people and the planet.
It is not an accident that the strongest democracies in the world are also the most socially just and ecologically sustainable societies in the world. Strong democracies are much more able to address the multifaceted and complex aspects of justice as they are more effective at providing representation of all people and their interests than are flawed democracies and autocracies. If those of us living in the flawed democracy that is the United States could have a bit more humility, we could see clearly that we have lot to learn about justice from democracies much stronger and more vibrant than our own.
One of the great enemies of justice in the United States from our very beginning has been the appeal to states’ rights. “States’ rights!” has been the rallying cry for continuing slavery, implementing segregation, suppressing voting rights, banning reproductive choice, and discriminating against persons who are LGBTQ+. One of the most significant flaws in the founding of our republic is that we allowed states’ rights to trump human rights. States should have the right to expand human rights beyond the federal baseline, but they should never be allowed to diminish them.
The overemphasis on states’ rights in relation to human rights along with a broken two party political system, gerrymandering, a U.S. Senate and an electoral college system that are grossly unrepresentative of the will of the whole people, and a Supreme Court that has been captured for a generation by corporate and theocratic interests all together make the work for justice for all a very steep uphill climb.
The steepness of the climb towards justice could easily lead us to give up, to sit at the bottom of the hill and lick our wounds and lament our losses. After all, the forces of injustice seem to keep on eroding the best paths towards the goal of justice and at times throw the equivalent of boulders down upon us in attempt to bury us in an avalanche of injustice. We could give up, but that would make inevitable the unspeakable suffering of billions of persons alive today and generations to come.
The much more hopeful alternative is to break out our climbing gear, tie ourselves together to help the most vulnerable on the climb, protect ourselves as well as possible, and pull each other up towards the goal of justice for all people and the planet. It is much better to take the risk of the climb rather than allow the forces of injustice to maintain and expand their power because if the purveyors of social and environmental injustice remain in power much longer, our planet will survive, but our people will not. The risk of the arduous and dangerous climb towards justice is a risk we must take, and may we also find some love and joy together on the journey.