Last September, when I visited Washington D.C., I encountered a small gathering at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial organized by a group called the National Council of Elders. The National Council of Elders is a group that was founded by Rev. James Lawson, Dr. Vincent Harding and Rev. Phil Lawson that consists of veterans of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement, the immigrant rights movement and the gay rights movement and their goal is to continue their work in social justice and to impart the wisdom of their experiences to a new generation of social justice activists. The representatives of the National Council of Elders were presenting their Greensborough Declaration, which urged the country to resolve to help the poor and working class in their struggles during this economic recession.
Among the members of the National Council of Elders are many of the icons of the great social justice movements of the past 60 years. It includes respected activists like Dolores Huerta, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Marian Wright Edelman, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Reverand Mel White, Reverand Nelson Johnson, and Dr. Grace Lee Boggs. They have shown their support of the Occupy Wall Street movement and had created a Greensborough Declaration to influence the Presidential elections to focus on the issues of economic inequality and the struggles of the middle class and poor.
One of the things that I most admire about the National Council of Elders is the ecumenical nature of the participants. There are Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis, and Muslim ministers who are a part of the group, and I’m sure that Buddhist and other religious clergy also participate. To me, this shows that the fight for social justice is an integral part of many religions, especially the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I’ve always disliked Karl Marx’s statement that religion the opiate of the masses. If you look at the history of American reform, for instance, many of America’s great grassroots social movements, from the Abolitionists, to the women’s suffragists, to the labor movement and the civil rights movement, drew many of its leaders and supporters from Christian churches. In the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran are many references that testify to the Abrahamic God’s concern for the poor and the marginalized.
An example is Proverbs 31:8-9 in the Old Testament, which states:
Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all who are destitute,
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
Defend the rights of the poor and needy
The Koran states in the 177th verse in Chapter 2:
Righteousness is not that you should turn your faces to the East and the West;
rather, the righteous are those who believe in God and the last day,
and the angels and scripture and prophets;
and who give material gifts out of love for God,
even of what they care for,
to relatives and orphans,
and the poor and the traveler and the needy,
and for the purpose of liberating the enslaved;
and who pray regularly and give alms;
and who fulfilled their promises when they promise;
and those who are patient in misfortune, affliction, and hard times:
they are the ones who confirm the truth, and they are the conscientious.
Matthew 25:31-40 of the New Testament reads:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothed you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.”
I end this blog with a few youtube videos of the work of the group. To go to their facebook page, you can go to this link.
The National Council of Elders show their support of the Occupy Wall Street protests and emphasize the need for any social movement to be intergenerational
A meeting on November 20, 2011 between members of Occupy Wall Street and the Council of Elders
Youtube videos of the National Council of Elders releasing the Greensborough Declaration on September 12, 2012