Image from Adam Fagen.
This past week has been momentous for the world of social justice in the United States. On Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of federal subsidies within the Affordable Care Act, which allows people across the United States to continue to better afford their health insurance purchased through the federal exchange. On Friday, the Court also ruled that same-sex marriage is a right granted by the U.S. Constitution.
Both of these huge victories come as a result of the dedicated work of activists working in separate circles, but under the same umbrella of social justice. Social justice is the belief that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities. Workers in the social justice fields strive to improve institutions and social norms in order to further open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.
Social justice matters. It matters because women giving birth in Detroit die at higher rates (58.7 deaths per 100,000) than women giving birth in developing countries like Libya or Vietnam. It matters because high school students who identify as LGBT are twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. It matters because African-Americans are incarcerated at six times the rate of whites, and although African-Americans and Hispanics are only about 25 percent of the total U.S. population, they make up about 58 percent of prisoners. It matters because white women earn 78 percent of their male counterparts, but African-American women were paid 64 percent of what white men were paid, and for Latina women – only 54 percent.
On the same day the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a Constitutional right, President Obama delivered a eulogy for South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered in the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. In the eulogy, President Obama referenced that Sen. Pinckney represented a district that “has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment.” Later, the president spoke to the systemic racism present in American society, and called out the implicit racial biases that influence a hiring manager to “call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal,” and the important steps that we as a society need to take to recognize “our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin…or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American.”
To make opportunities real for every American, to ever strive towards a more perfect union, to create a world in which neither gender, nor skin color, nor economic status, nor sexual orientation, nor myriad other elements of what makes up a person – that is why social justice matters. We celebrate the victories of social justice activists this week, and recognize the forward march that must continue. That is why we will continue to work with our community partners to sustain their ongoing work, and ensure the success of their future endeavors.