Two cartoons that were drawn after the massacre of 12 people at the headquarters of the French satirist paper, Charlie Hebdo, reminded me of the power of what is drawn and written. The first cartoon showed masked men with assault rifles over their shoulders puzzling over a pen. All their might and force has been overpowered by the might and force of the written word. The second is a cartoon shows a pencil, a pen, and an eraser. An arrow drawn to the eraser asks, “grenade?” An arrow pointing to the pencil, asks, “rifle?” An arrow pointing to the pen asks, “Kalashnikov (Russian assault rifle)?”
For years I have often reflected that it is the words and ideas of people like King and Gandhi that have proved to be the biggest threat to the status quo or the powers that be. The false assumption by those who have responded by killing the prophetic voices is that death will ultimately silence them and their power. I am reminded often of the quote by the radical bishop Oscar Romero, an advocate for the poor and marginalized, who was murdered as he said mass, “If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.” And he did. Death could not still his faithfulness to the radical gospel of love and inclusivity of Jesus. The people picked up where he left off. The non-violence that Gandhi and King preached and practiced were far more effective “weapons” in the struggle for freedom by marginalized peoples than any weapon that physically injured or killed. Today many involved in justice work still return again and again to Gandhi and King and Romero for guidance and inspiration.
The non-indictments in so many cases of white on black violence have not silenced the voices of marginalized blacks or those who join them in the struggle to dismantle racism. If anything, we are hearing from more and more voices that have been formally marginalized in this country. Their cries, the blogs, the editorials, the spoken word pieces on venues like YouTube are a powerful testament to the power of the word.
The rhyme I was taught as a child is wrong: “Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.” I maintain that sticks and stone and words will always hurt me and others. So let us choose our words carefully. And let us embrace them as a tool of power and change when it comes to justice making and doing. Let us defend the right of voices, pens, and pencils from the margins to be seen and heard.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,