If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:26 (NIV)
“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
Yet what force on earth is weaker
Than the feeble strength of one?
Pete Seeger, “Solidarity Forever”
* * *
2020 has been a difficult year. Over one million lives have been claimed by a fatal virus, a growing tide of right-wing nationalism has become emboldened, fragile economies have left millions of people unemployed, and a growing sense of despair is brewing among those who cannot see brighter futures ahead. In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, glimmers of hope can be found in the collective struggle of people who refuse to accept the given order as a fixture in their lives. It is precisely this vision for a better world that unites Palestinians and Black Americans in their fight for it.
But what does Advent have to do with the Black/Palestinian struggle?
Advent brings us to Bethlehem and the Palestinian struggle, and the Palestinian struggle brings us to the struggle for Black liberation. Since the 2014 “Ferguson-Gaza moment”, widespread interest in Afro-American/Palestinian solidarity has emerged in its aftermath.
Here in the US, a surge of organizers and ordinary citizens are prophesying doom to some of the most entrenched forms of violence in the USA: police, prisons, and the neoliberal order. The growing crescendo of “Abolition!” has catapulted new ideas into the mainstream that once seemed ludicrous. The framework of abolition connects contemporary struggles against state violence with former antislavery movements that swept the Atlantic World all the way up to the Civil War, even though the struggles themselves are different. But connecting struggles isn’t supposed to be a game of puzzles.
What unites contemporary abolitionist movements with those of the past is the shared vision for a more just, compassionate world. That’s what connects the struggle for Black liberation with the Palestinian quest for freedom. Of course, the struggles are not identical, but the age of COVID-19 reminds us in the most sobering way that we are only as healthy as our neighbor. This is why the Palestinian struggle for dignity is brought to the forefront of my imagination often in the United States. Abolition is fought for on multiple fronts. Assata Shakur said it best:
“Any community seriously concerned with its own freedom has to be concerned about other peoples’ freedom as well. The victory of oppressed people anywhere in the world is a victory for Black people. Each time one of imperialism’s tentacles is cut off we are closer to liberation… Imperialism is an international system of exploitation, and, we, as revolutionaries, need to be internationalists to defeat it.” (264)
The abolitionist struggle forces us to think about the network of interests between corporations, military, and governments. When we consider the market the USA and Israel have established for suppressing unruly populations, we are left with the sobering realization that the interests of corporate, government, and military elites connect them far more than an elusive title of “citizenship”. Ordinary people, “workers of the world”, must unite in their struggle for freedom. Black Americans and working-class Americans have far more in common with other oppressed communities than they do with Jeff Bezos. Advent reminds us of the call God places on us to struggle for liberation. When prophetic communities – Jewish, Christian or Muslim – respond to the call of God to struggle for justice and dignity the foundations of apathy and complacency become undone.
Matthew Vega is Ph.D. Student in Theology at the University of Chicago. His research interests include the relationship between race and capitalism, methods and paradigms of and for theology, and religious radicalisms.