It’s The Agitator Part That Bothers You, Not The Outside Part

This week Seth Godin shared an audio recording of “Letter from A Birmingham Jail.” A couple dozen voices contribute to a pretty arresting audio product, and I’ll post it below for you to listen.

One thing I noticed listening to it while driving around yesterday afternoon is this segment about “outside agitators” from very early in the letter. It contains perhaps the best known sentence of the entire text, but, given–as we have recently seen–the persistent impulse of those defending the status quo to vilify demonstrators as outsiders, the whole paragraph made me stop and take careful note:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

Reporting showed that most of the people arrested during demonstrations in Minneapolis, for example, lived there. The Mayor and the President were wrong in saying that most of the protestors’ energy came from outside the community they were protesting. But even if they were, that, by itself, is not a disqualifier.

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