Let’s time travel: It’s the 4th of April, 1967. Martin Luther King, Jr. is slated to preach at New York’s renowned Riverside Church. Everyone knows what he’ll talk about: race relations and civil rights, of course.
King bypasses all expectations, however, focusing instead on America’s war in Vietnam. Surprise stimulates debate: for some it spells disappointment, even shock. For a vocal minority it is a betrayal of the movement. “Dr. King has weakened the cause of Black Liberation,” they seem to say. “This drains energy from the real issue, dividing rather than unifying.” For others the event comes close to treason: what right does a private citizen have to question a nation’s policies in wartime?
Was King right? Or were his critics justified?
Looking back, Dr. King’s stand contributed mightily to a shift in public attitude. Antiwar feelings grew until they brought about a historic change in policy. As I see things, it also -- surprisingly -- served the cause of equal rights in America.
Similar shifts in public opinion have become an ongoing part of our experience. Women’s rights? We’re clearly not where we were before the feminist movement rose up. As for same-sex marriage, it’s been legal across Canada since 2005; in the U.S. also the old prohibitions keep coming down. The issue of wider LGBT rights shows a similar trend. Even gun control in the U.S., which stubbornly resists taming, shows movement as people raise questions like, which right has priority: carrying a gun to the ball game or parents sending their children to school, confident that they won’t come home in a hearse?
Let’s look at another reality: We live linked lives.
Living linked lives means all human issues interconnect. A clear-headed Dr. King saw that the movement for Black liberation didn’t exist in isolation. The overarching demand was for justice and full respect. And you can’t draw borders around justice, saying “Here, yes; there, no!” If the presenting problem is the plight of peasants in Vietnam, the justice answer can neither be to ignore it or to Napalm their villages.
In our time there’s another major shift going on. It seldom gets headlines like other issues, but it does affect us all. This shift has to do with how we create and use maps. The new reality begins in what I call democratization: making, using and analyzing maps is no longer the job of a privileged few; now anybody can get into the act.
At the same time we’re beginning to see that those maps connect us to the major issues of our time. Maps impact our attitudes toward “those” people -- cocoa workers in West Africa, perpetrators and victims of hate crimes in the U.S. or Iraq, people in poverty, fearful children fleeing Central America for their very lives … the list goes on.
In the midst of crisis and collapsing hope, here’s the good news: since no issue exists in a vacuum, gains made anywhere bring benefits everywhere. We can celebrate progress, wherever it is made. On any issue. In any place. The doors are open to taking part!