Dave Diewert, Streams of Justice
I recently attended the 20th Annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women. This annual event serves to bear witness to the tragic reality of violence against women in our city and beyond, with particular focus on the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside. Their lives are honored in words, songs and ceremonies that mark this powerful event. Fittingly, it takes place on Valentine’s Day and constitutes a collective act of love for the women who were known and loved by family and friends in this community.
Near the end of the March this year we stopped outside the police station on Main Street. At that site, a few women spoke of their feelings of grief at the loss of friends or family members, and their outrage at the slow, negligent response by police and other officials to reports of women gone missing. One indigenous woman expressed it powerfully when she shouted to the crowd, “Love is political.”
I think this statement is profoundly true, and worth careful consideration.
As Christians, we like to think that love is central to our faith; after all, we have those texts that assert “God is love” and call on the faithful to “love one another.” Love of God and love of neighbor is affirmed as the greatest commandment and sum of the entire Torah. Jesus challenged his followers to love one another to the point of death (John 15:13), and even exhorted love of one’s enemy. The writer of First John makes love tangible when he states, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (3:17 NRSV; or “closes off his compassion from him”). James problematizes faith that witnesses deep need but offers only empty words not practical action (“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” 2:15-16).
Despite how horrible our performance is or how dismally we fail at fulfilling the command to love, we would all agree that loving one another is central to our tradition and its ethical vision, rooted as it is in the very nature of our God. But what if the person in need is constantly in a state of material deprivation? What if the naked and hungry people of our world keep multiplying, despite efforts at charitable relief?
What if the homeless and impoverished population in our city keeps growing no matter how many food and shelter programs are operated by various churches or faith groups? What if dozens of poor, indigenous women continue to disappear or be murdered in the Downtown Eastside year after year?
This is when love needs to be political. Love must ask questions about the systemic distribution of power and resources, the social construction of human worth, the forces that erode human community and solidarity. Love asks: What are the legislated causes of poverty? What state policies and priorities end up perpetuating an increase in homelessness? Why does the horrible murder of Wendy Ladner- Beaudry, a white, affluent and socially privileged woman, garner huge police and investigative resources while the disappearance and murder of dozens of poor, addicted, native women in the Downtown Eastside receive little or no attention for years? Such questioning leads to an analysis of power and the structures of domination, an uncovering of the interests served by the smooth functioning of the status quo, and to thoughtful, creative, courageous action that unmasks the injustices and contends for alternatives.
When we embark on the journey of loving people who are battered and bruised, oppressed and killed by the structures of social, political and economic power, then we must engage in the fight for justice, and that means love gets political.