Jan 21

“With liberty and justice for all”

In January of 1963, eight clergymen published an open letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This letter warned against King’s demonstrations of civil disobedience. The clergymen called on him to preserve the peace of Birmingham. King received this letter while in prison for leading a parade without a permit. It was no parade that King was marching in, but rather a display advocating for human rights. Thus, “A Letter from Birmingham City Jail” was born. Composed on April 16, 1963, in the margins of a newspaper, this “letter” addresses the racial injustice in Birmingham and in the United States. Now, over fifty years later, the words of King still ring true to the tragedies of today. Yet, through the many mirrors of society, we are often unable to see beneath the surface; we forget that injustice manifests in many forms. The lynching of a black man, the raping of a woman: they both provide vivid proof that our society still clings to power and privilege.

“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily” (Marshall 237). For too long, society has existed without equality. For all of history, men have had privileges withheld from women. To this day, men show no sign of giving up their privileges. This cannot afford to stand any longer. For the future of liberty, for the future of justice, and for the future of our world, equality must be attained. Now is the time to find this long sought and long ignored equality. For too many years the problems of today have been left to tomorrow. For too many generations have we slumbered in a sleep of tranquilizing contentment. Now is the time to act. The world will not change itself, so we must force it to change with faith and fortitude. We must be unwavering in our cause and unshakable in our stance. We must fight with words rather than violence, and comradery rather than contempt. Women must stand up, hand in hand with one and other, before men will begin to stand with us.  

In the fight for equality, we must never be overcome with haste; there must be a sense of urgency, but never haste. For haste leads to rashness, rashness leads to panic, and panic leads to violence, and so the cause will be lost. We will be questioned and hindered with every step, but we must never give up. “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed” (237). In order for our demands to be met, we must back them with the concrete facts of injustice. For all of history, women have been forced into a place of subordinance. We have been uneducated, unrepresented, and unheard by society. We have been beaten, abused, and abandoned by those closest to us. Women live in a world where even when our work surpasses that of our suppressor, we are not paid equally. Women live in a world where society forces upon us standards that cannot be met. Women live in a world where “Liberty and justice for all” is an empty promise because society protects the attacker and shames the victim.  

There is no place in our world for this sickening expression of inequality and arbitrarily enforced protection, where preservation for the privileged outweighs prosecution of the guilty. People cannot sit idly as women are indirectly taught the dehumanizing phrase “I am Nobody! Who are you?” because in the eyes of social justice women have been stripped of their name. When your first name becomes “girl” and your middle becomes “object” and your last name becomes “Estella,” it leaves you with such a sense of pain and helplessness, that you will be silenced by doubt. In order for the cause of equality to be achieved, we can never show doubt. We must stare into the many faces of manufactured beauty and look straight back and say, “I am beauty.” We must stare into the face of our attackers and say, “I am a victim, not an instigator.” We must stare into the face of doubt and say, “I am equal, and I deserve to be treated as an equal.” Let it be known that women will serve as catalysts for change if need be. Let it be known that all women shall be extremists for love and justice. Let it be known that no woman will cease her tempest of spirit until her athletic pursuits are recognized and her academic achievements are celebrated and her rights to protection are enacted upon. “I know why the caged bird sings.” It sings because singing is all it can do. It sings because singing is its only weapon for liberation. The day that all women stand in unison singing in perfectly disjointed and chaotic harmony, that is the day we will be heard. That is when we will be joined by the rest of society.  

We will be joined by society when we prove to them that they have no other option. When we prove to them that we will not be satisfied to return to a harmful peace of silence and fear. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every [woman] with a piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’ . . . We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied’ ” (347). Now is the time to stand up, or sit down, for the preservation of the American Dream. We can no longer afford to pass the issues of our generation onto our children. We must attack sexism in our country, in our world, in our time. We must attack with a ceaseless sea of love and hope and sisterhood. We must stop hiding, we must stop covering up, we must stop apologizing. This issue will not be addressed by teaching young women to hide and behave and fear. This issue will only disappear when we stand up and expose it for the festering boil that it is. This issue will only change by teaching society to respect women, not by teaching women to respect society.  

    Dr. King understood this. He understood that the world is not in need of obedience, but rather civil disobedience. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich told us that "Well behaved women seldom make history." Not once in the history of mankind has the world been changed by people who sit quietly and obey unjust laws for the sake of civility. The world must learn to see past the blinds of fake equality and realize that humanity must change. Women can no longer be treated as an object or a pet. Women belong to themselves, every person belongs to themselves. People are like the moon, they cannot be tied down or possessed. The moon may appear to follow you, but in reality, the moon follows everyone and no one. You are not the master of its travel. Men are not the masters of women. Men have no right to catcall a woman on the street, they have no right to harass a woman at work, they have no right to rape a woman at a party. A woman who has experienced these unacceptable atrocities should not be shamed into silence. "Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber" (243). Rapists cannot be excused from justice because a woman's clothes were "too revealing." Boys cannot be excused from moral education on the front of "boys will be boys." Dr. King realized that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (233). We cannot excuse even one guilty rapist, misogynist, racist, or abuser of justice. Humanity must unite and work together for change. Dr. King realized that the world will not be changed by one person, but rather all people. Society will not be changed by men or women, society will be changed by people.

Yours for the cause of peace and humanity,

Hannah G. Vogel