One Urgent National Day of Service

One Urgent Day of National Service - MLK Day 2022

A message from the NIA

One now imaginable day, a young student, or a single mother of four, or a diligent night shift factory worker, will lose their right to vote, be forced to live behind bars because they have no money to pay to be free while waiting for trial, and will be locked away for something as routine to many of us, like smoking a marijuana cigarette in what they thought was the privacy of their own backyard. Or like driving home from the pub after having had two drinks. Or like taking a chance to stretch an answer on a tax or government questionnaire because successful billionaires do it all the time. Or like putting a gun in your handbag this one time because you are afraid and you really don’t know the difference between “conceal” or “carry” or “2nd amendment” or whatever.  Or because a friend who is a contractor gave you a small amount of money to tell other customers about his business, but you work for the city and you honestly don’t know how broadly applied might be the word “bribe.”

I know, you’re thinking “What do you mean one day? This stuff happens now!”

Indeed it all happens every day right now as we speak. Except that one day – one now imaginable day – it all will no longer be central to the great debate of fairness, reform, and systemic innovation. One now imaginable day these matters will no longer be central to the great debate of what makes sense in an evolving democracy like the United States of America. One day now on its way, the debate will be history in a theatre of fear and a race for absolute power at all cost.

A popular buzz phase dominating discourse in America is all about “Protecting our democracy; our freedoms, our patriotism.” It’s not the first time the shouts of personal independence and freedom will have dominated the American ethos. Every time it has happened before, we tore apart families on opposite sides of a contending posture. When we healed after it all, the essence of democracy prevailed and expanded.

MLK Quotes Images - National Incarceration Association

You would think that we have learned enough through such suffering and callous collateral consequence, to now be able to engage the most difficult of debates, not at the expense of “democracy” but in line with the hard-fought-for parameters of our established and enduring democracy. In the worst of ways, we are on track to re-discovering just how interconnected we really are. All of us claiming space in this democracy.

At first earshot it might feel confusing – this debate. But it remains as simple as it has always been. The sustaining magnificence of this experiment in the idea of democracy is that each time we began to get it right, we opened the invitation to every man, woman, and child to debate, to learn, to explore, to compromise, to thereby become – more American. And aside from the interpretative beauty of our Constitution, there is no rule book on how to proceed past the bumps and bruises. It’s all up to that open-minded sensitivity to humanity and the creative giving of space to explore better ways of seeing and being, that we all – every American – innately possess.

The plight of some families stuck in a maze of criminal desperation is nothing but another challenge of the great American experiment in how to expand the ideals of democracy. Woe be it for all of us to slide back into seeing such desperation of some Americans as “their problem, keep them and their problems away from me.” But if you listen to us now, that’s what we seem to be becoming yet again.

The urgency of days like this day, is to challenge yourself with the question “What would life be in this land if only I had my every way? If only my way of seeing and doing were the only way to make law?” The absence of learned altruism in context of all that we know, is the independent choice of how to self-destruct.