Reflecting on Social Justice Day in Times of Social Turmoil

Bucks County military veteran Steve Nolan explains what social justice means to him.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

When we think of social justice we can go back to our earliest memories of fighting with our siblings about something or other, expecting our parents to intervene on the side of fairness – even before we were old enough to be taught the Ten Commandments or start school with its many rules. Even sports had referees and umpires expected to judge fair play or penalize infractions. As we got older, our education taught us bigger rules, even rules amongst nations or the violations that have led to conflict and war. 

February 20th is the United Nations World Day of Social Justice which promotes social justice in an increasing globalized world. The United Nations itself was created in the aftermath of a devastating war that took 60 million lives. When it ended, the world knew that a body of nations was necessary to prevent unending conflict and to preserve harmony and equality amongst peoples. All members pledge income and resources to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The observation of this day is a pledge of renewal of shared values to fight poverty, promote education, employment, decent work, racial and gender equity, and access to the resources necessary to bring social well-being and justice for all. This is a never-ending quest constantly tested by differences, disagreements and conflict throughout the globe. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have war in Europe once again on a massive scale with tremendous loss of life and millions of refugees, occurring on the heels of a Syrian conflict that also took tens of thousands of lives and made millions homeless.

In America, we see not only liberty and freedom challenged from astroturf efforts to gerrymander and limit voting rights, to the Supreme Court’s assault on women’s Constitutional freedoms. We see a national agenda to return our educational system to primitive beliefs undoing many of the gains of the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBTQ Rights movements. 

It is also Black History month, where a nation needs to be reminded of its journey from slavery to Jim Crow, from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the ongoing gutting of it starting in 2013, from the struggle to have the first Black History Month to today when there are nationwide efforts to erase Black history, from our first Black President to an insurrection by organized White Supremacists to overthrow the government of the United States.

Social Justice is the continuation of a pledge that all are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights. Social Justice is a never-ending striving toward correcting our mistakes and building a Beloved Community for all nationalities, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and religions to have equal opportunity to thrive and protection from injustices. 

It is no accident that the United Nations is located in the United States. We were the first nation in human history to formalize the reconstruction of the economies and lives of nations defeated in war. Now charity must begin at home and we must rededicate ourselves to the founding principles of our Republic and the founding principles of the United Nations; not simply one nation under God, indivisible, but all nations, under one God or many gods, with equal access to the necessities for survival and the necessities for the pursuit of happiness. This starts with social justice for all, and justice for the planet itself. We must be ever vigilant to protect all nations and their peoples, but that cannot happen if we do not first preserve our fragile planet from the ravages of climate change. The results of greed and unjust environmental policy will ravage the poor and the poorer nations first but in the end impact even the most privileged nations, corporations and individuals. We are in this together. Let Neil Armstrong’s words echo down the centuries as a call for justice on every level, a symbol of what is possible of our highest selves — the giant leap he declared that humans were preparing to take. 

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Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan spent 30 years in the military and 25 years as a mental health professional. He has published in numerous journals and his poetry was featured on National Public Radio, Morning Edition, upon his return from Afghanistan in 2007. He is the author of “Go Deep,” “Base Camp,” and “American Carnage, An Officer’s Duty to Warn.” His work reflects his commitment to social justice.

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