by: Valerie Elverton-Dixon on June 21st, 2013 | 2 Comments »
Every moment is a particle of the eternal that contains within itself the past, present, and future of now.
When President Obama stood on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate on June 19, 2013, a historic moment, he spoke of the past, present, and future of the struggle for freedom, justice, and peace. The first African American president is a living example of the hopes of enslaved African Americans, and June 19th – Juneteenth – is the day we set aside to commemorate that day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger and federal soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger delivered the news of the end of the Civil War and of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Granger also announced General Order #3 that said in part: “This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves. . . .” That moment contained the seed of freedom that would grow to allow the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Juneteenth remembers the past and looks with earnest expectation to the future. Juneteenth.com says: “It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement, and for planning the future.” (http://juneteenth.com/)
Intentional to Juneteenth or not, this was the spirit of the president’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate. He acknowledged a distant German tribal past, Reformation, Enlightenment, the philosopher Immanuel Kant, World War II, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the restoration of Germany. He said: “For throughout all this history, the fate of this city came down to a simple question: Will we live free or in chains?”(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/19/barack-obama-berlin-speech-full-text/print)
And I say: the challenge to free people is how we use our freedom to establish justice that brings peace.
President Obama quoted from President John Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner speech delivered 50 years ago: “Let me ask you to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today. . . beyond the freedoms of merely this city. [Look] to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.”
And so President Obama did. Looking to the now and the not yet dimensions of the moment, the president described what peace with justice means. It means: the end of intolerance according to race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. He recognized the relationship between security and religious toleration. He said: “When we respect the faiths practiced in our churches and synagogues, our mosques and our temples, we’re more secure.”
Peace with justice also means: free enterprise; education; science and research; the end of extreme income inequality and youth unemployment; security without nuclear weapons; environmental responsibility to combat climate change; the end of poverty; effective public health; security with openness; the close of the prison in Guantanamo Bay; a controlled used of drones; and open debate.
President Obama cast a future vision of the first AIDS free generation. He said: “Peace with justice means meeting our moral obligations. . . . Making sure that we do everything we can to realize the promise – an achievable promise—of the first AIDS-free generation. That is something that is possible if we feel a sufficient sense of urgency.”
This list of imperatives that details what peace with justice means is not a smorgasbord or laundry list or grab bag of items picked willy-nilly out of the political ether. This is a just peace agenda that comports with the principles and practices of just peace. This agenda conforms to the three pillars of just peace – truth, respect, and security. It exists under the framework of goals set by the various documents on human rights that he mentioned – The Declaration of Independence, the German Basic Law (the German Constitution), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is a matter of respect for the dignity of humankind.
It is no surprise that the commentary on the president’s remarks centered on his call for a decrease of nuclear weapons and on the Russian response. As important as the goal of a world free of all nuclear weapons is, I say the questions of economic, environmental and restorative justice are even more important. War journalism reports on conflict and weapons of war. The day to day struggle for justice goes, for the most part, unnoticed. The relationship between income inequality and violent conflict begs for attention all over the world. The work of grassroots peacemakers who work day by blessed day on issues of poverty, health, environmental sustainability, education, and human rights needs our attention and our support because this will be how we get to peace with justice.
The freed slaves and all the generations since the first Juneteenth celebrate freedom. At the same time as we honor and celebrate the continuing struggle for the freedom of all humankind, we rededicate ourselves to a universal goal of justice and peace, both now and into the future. President Obama’s speech before the Brandenburg Gate on Juneteenth 2013 spoke this rededication.
For more on war journalism, see the introduction to my book–Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation. It is available at most online booksellers.