Jackie Sartoris

Jackie Sartoris

This Martin Luther King Day offered a study in contrasts. Locally, the Brunswick Democratic Town Committee held its 6th annual pasta benefit for the MidCoast Hunger Prevention Program. This supper brought together over 150 people, raised more than $2000, and reflected on King’s words and example with inspiring speakers. MCHPP Director Karen Parker’s review of the state of hunger in our area was sobering yet hopeful. We inhabit communities rich in service and spirit, here in the Brunswick area.

Meanwhile, in Maine our Governor displayed his ignorance to spew breathtaking disrespect for the sacrifice of black Americans towards the cause of freedom, while issuing renewed budget attacks on the poorest of Mainers. Nationally, the President-Elect started an ill-informed Twitter war against civil rights icon John Lewis, and names those who oppose the public benefit mission of each federal agency as his desired heads.

The news is a surreal work of fiction from which there is no waking. Russian tampering, FBI interference, widespread and organized voter suppression, potty humor that would make my 2nd-grader blush — or at least giggle intemperately — if he heard it, which he will not. The Arctic ice sheet at record lows, women’s reproductive freedom up for grabs, health care access again under assault. The inauguration menaces, notwithstanding the mounting evidence that this is a truly illegitimate result. And so locally, I meet with others to organize response and resistance. But we all recognize that sustaining effort and optimism may be the greatest challenge.

Waiting for one of many donations for this year’s MLK event, I chatted with the grocery store clerk about the logistics of helping pull off a supper for 150. Taking out her wallet, a nearby shopper unexpectedly handed me a generous contribution, “I don’t think I can be there, but put this towards that supper. It sounds wonderful.” The same day, a local acquaintance messages me, saying she has knit me a hat, in a becoming shade of pink.

Each act of unlooked for generosity leaves me suffused in astonishment, embarrassingly close to tears. Navigating these times appears to provide a new challenge at every turn, a whipsaw of appalled disbelief followed by amazed gratitude. A ping-ponged center unsure of its hold.

So, for just one day, we turn off the news, and turn on music. We raise the dough to bake the focaccia for the supper, skate along Merrymeeting Bay, and share a meal with friends. We find equilibrium in ignorance of all that happens outside of this small community of ours, blanketed in the warmth of coats and sturdy boots, in the smiles and delight of one another’s children, in music and good food. We find solace in the unspoken knowledge that in these times of great uncertainty, we can choose good company, take some deep breaths, and be restored for the risky, essential work of citizenship. Sustenance for the days ahead.

The arc of the moral universe is indeed long. But it does not simply bend towards justice of its own accord. Better than most of us today, Martin Luther King knew it must be pushed, and pulled, encouraged and implored, arrested, even martyred. Bending moral arcs is a long game, the task of decades, and generations, and centuries. Yet the force towards justice, it is always ours to wield.

Jackie Sartoris is a former Brunswick Town Councilor.

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