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“Revolutionary Love”: Michelle Alexander on Gaza, Solidarity, MLK & What Gives Her Hope

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Author and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander’s new piece in The Nation reflects on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 4, 1967, speech in New York opposing the war in Vietnam and its lasting lessons for American society today. She describes “revolutionary love” as the transnational “connections between liberation struggles” around the world, and calls for anti-oppression movements in the U.S. to continue working to “end the occupation of Palestine and commit to the thriving of all of the people who have been subjected to endless war and occupation.” Revolutionary love, argues Alexander, “is the only thing that can save us now.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander has a new piece in The Nation. It’s headlined “Only Revolutionary Love Can Save Us Now.” Michelle Alexander begins, “This moment feels different. Something new is in the air. Of course, everything is always changing. Impermanence is the way of life. Philosophers, theologians, and poets have reminded us for centuries that the only constant is change.”

Michelle Alexander joins us now for more, the best-selling author of the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

It’s great to have you back with us, Michelle. If you can —

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m always happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to see you. If you can talk about what gives you hope right now, even as you write about what’s happening in Gaza, as you talk about what’s happening with issues of police brutality and mass incarceration through the United States? Talk about movements and your references to Dr. King.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, what gives me hope right now is that, despite everything, revolutionary love is bursting and blossoming in all kinds of places and spaces. Years of relentless and patient organizing and deep learning about each other’s histories and struggles have led to a moment when Black activists are showing up at protests organized by Jewish students who are raising their voices in solidarity with Palestinians who are suffering occupation and annihilation in Gaza. And, you know, this is due to connections that have been made over the course of years between liberation struggles on the streets of Ferguson and those occurring in Palestine. And these small acts of revolutionary love are leading to movements, are building movements that just might help us change everything.

And, you know, we see this in communities everywhere, where people are connecting dots between climate change and racial and gender injustice. We see it in the movement to stop Cop City in Atlanta. We see it in movements for clean water and food. And we see that people are making connections between liberation struggles here at home and those occurring around the world, as well as connections between the violence of policing and incarceration and the violence of militarism and the relentless assault on Gaza.

So, you know, people are turning towards really promising forms of movement building, incredible acts of courage in this moment, speaking unpopular truths. And that gives me hope, even in a time when there is so much reason for fear and anxiety, that can be paralyzing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Michelle, but you also raised in your article that all of this is happening right now in the midst of a presidential election here in the United States. And what do you see as the impact of the policy of the Biden administration in terms of — especially in terms of Gaza and the genocide there, and what the impact may be on the result of our election?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Well, you know, tens of thousands of people have been killed in Gaza in just a few months with our bombs — you know, mass murder funded by our government, aided and abetted by our military, paid for, in large part, by our tax dollars. And while we have been told by our government that we are not witnessing genocide, you know, I and millions of people around the world have watched. You know, as videos have traveled around the globe, we’ve watched, you know, as mothers have pulled body parts of their dead children out of rubble, as people have had their limbs amputated, sawed off, without anesthesia because the hospitals have been destroyed and there’s no medicine, including pain medication, to be found. We’ve watched as people facing starvation have been shot at by Israeli soldiers as they approach vehicles carrying aid.

And so, you know, the Biden administration seems to be surprised that people who are not Palestinian care as deeply as we do. And I think if the Democratic Party and the Biden administration is serious about winning this next election, they must not only insist upon a ceasefire, but end the aid for the military support and the bombs, and must invest and ensure that the people who are starving and who are suffering there get the aid that they need to survive. We must end the occupation of Palestine and commit to the thriving of all of the people who have been subjected to relentless war and occupation for decades now. And so, yeah, I do think it’s an important issue in this election year.

And, you know, as I point out in the piece, that there are many, many things that are weighing on the minds and the hearts of the American people right now. It is the mass killing in Gaza, you know, more than 10,000 children, and the destruction of hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, universities, museums and nearly all the basic infrastructure. It is the memories of the killings that occurred on October 7th, memories that many continue to carry along with deep grief and fear. But there’s also, you know, fears of the threats to our democracy, to the very ideas of diversity and inclusion. And there’s the threat of climate change. You know, 2023 was the hottest year on record, and it seems we may have already passed a critical tipping point, and yet the five biggest oil companies last year raked in record profits, nearly $200 billion in profits, more than the economic output of most countries. And, you know, if all that wasn’t enough, we keep learning more and more that AI just might destroy humanity.

And, you know, I find that people often ask me, as I speak about issues related to climate change and the war in Gaza and the threats related to the rise in technology: What does any of this have to do with mass incarceration or police violence, the issues and causes that have been most pressing and most important to me for much of my life? And what I always say is that these issues have everything to do with mass incarceration. These are existential crises that we face because we have persisted in treating people and all of creation as exploitable and disposable, unworthy of our care and concern. We are lost in the delusion that we can solve problems or do justice or achieve peace and security simply by locking people up, throwing away the key, destroying their lives and families, getting rid of them, declaring wars on them, wars on drugs, wars on crime, wars on Gaza. And that’s why I keep returning again and again to the speech that Martin Luther King gave near the end of his life, the speech where he condemned the Vietnam War and was immediately canceled. That’s what my piece in The Nation is ultimately about.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle, we want to end with and get your final comment on Dr. King’s speech that he gave at New York’s Riverside Church opposing the War in Vietnam a year to the day before he was assassinated. This is Dr. King speaking about why he opposed the War in Vietnam.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” And they ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home. And I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. King, after which, you point out in the piece, Michelle, that he was canceled, from the major papers, The New York Times to The Washington Post, attacked for his opposition to war.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yes, that’s absolutely right. I mean, it’s difficult to overstate the political risk that he was taking in that moment. Our nation had been at war with Vietnam for two years. Ten thousand American troops had already been killed. And the war had enthusiastic bipartisan support within the political establishment. Anyone who dared to criticize the war were often labeled communist and subjected to vicious forms of retaliation and backlash. Many of his friends and his allies told him not to speak out against the war, saying he’d jeopardize the very fragile and brand-new gains of the civil rights movement.

And he said, you know, those people, those voices didn’t understand the depth of his moral commitment, but they also had no real understanding of the nature of the world in which they lived. And he said basic morality demands that we speak for the weak, the voiceless, the victims of our own nation, especially the children, including those our nation calls enemy, for they are no less our brothers and sisters. He condemned the moral bankruptcy of a nation that doesn’t hesitate to invest in bombs and warfare around the world but can’t ever seem to find the dollars to eradicate poverty at home.

But, for me, you know, what makes King’s speech essential in this moment is that he was arguing in that speech that if we, as a nation, do not awaken from our collective delusions, we are doomed. You know, he said we must rapidly shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. You know, he said when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, you know, the giant triplet of racism, extreme materialism and militarism will never be conquered. You know, if we fail to make this turn, if we fail to awaken, we are doomed. And he was right. Whether we’re talking about climate change, AI, mass deportation, mass incarceration, the wars in Gaza or the wars on drugs, he’s right, that if we don’t turn away from the corrupting forces of capitalism, militarism and racism, and embrace a truly revolutionary love for all people and all creation, we are doomed. Towards the end of that speech at Riverside, he said there is such a thing as being too late. You know, he said over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words “too late.”

And yet his message wasn’t a hopeless one. He was calling us to embrace a revolutionary movement, one that was grounded in an ethic of love. Just as bell hooks once said, you know, as long as we refuse to embrace love in our struggles for liberation, we will not be able to create a culture of conversion where there’s a mass turning away from an ethic of domination. And that, ultimately, is what revolutionary love is all about and why I believe it is the only thing that can save us now.

AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Alexander, thank you so much for joining us, civil rights advocate — 


AMY GOODMAN: — author of the best-selling book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. We’ll link to your piece in The Nation, headlined “Only Revolutionary Love Can Save Us Now.”

When we come back, Donald Trump meets with Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. Stay with us.

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