MLK Day Teach-In: Kalamazoo pastor discusses how organizing behind civil rights movements serves white Americans

Kalamazoo area teacher, organizer and preacher Nathan Dannison said that the advancement of civil rights is in white Americans’ self-interest, explaining that civil rights movements can blossom into broad movements against social and economic injustice.

Kalamazoo area teacher, organizer and preacher Nathan Dannison explored the intersection of class consciousness and civil rights as a speaker at WMU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Teach-In. 

Dannison said that the advancement of civil rights is in white Americans’ self-interest, explaining that civil rights movements can blossom into broad movements against social and economic injustice 

The issue facing large scale change, Dannison explained, is that many white Americans lack class consciousness. This means that they fail to recognize the ways in which the current social-economic system hurts everyone. 

To add historical context, he referenced the Poor People’s Campaign in Memphis, Tennessee led by Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights advocates used the 1968 Sanitation Workers strike as a catalyst for the campaign. 

“The Sanitation Workers strike was the perfect catalyst wherein you could begin to shift [thinking] from the Civil Rights Movement being a movement for one marginalized group of Americans to one of class consciousness,” Dannison said. 

This historical examination of civil rights movements also serving the interests of white Americans led Dannison to discuss the difference between organizers and leaders. Organizers, he explained, oftentimes have privilege that can be used to provide a platform and help organize behind a leader who represents their interests. 

“Leaders are people for whom their self-interest and lived experiences intersect,” Dannison said. “Organizers oftentimes have privileges that can be weaponized to the benefit of the leaders.” 

Dannison then encouraged the audience to think about what was truly in their best interest. 

For white people this is an exercise to get beyond your own personal bulls--- and all the things that you think you believe to sort of get down to all of the stuff you actually believe in, Dannison said. “Most white people are so undifferentiated they have absolutely no idea what their own self-interest is.” 

The Western Herald will be bringing continued coverage of WMU and the larger Kalamazoo community's Martin Luther King Jr. day events. A schedule of the teach-in is available here and a schedule of other events and service opportunities is available here.

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