By Christopher Overfelt
One of five evils identified by the Poor People’s Campaign concerns our distorted moral narratives. These take shape in our society through the stories we tell ourselves and the beliefs we instill in one another. In the US, many of our national narratives around identity, poverty, and foreign policy are distorted through the lens of white supremacy or the idea of “American Exceptionalism.”
I like to think about our national narratives as a fabric woven together with many individual stories. As more threads get woven into the fabric, these narratives change over time. Traditionally, American narratives have excluded perspectives of people of color. What we are taught in school about the founding of our country does not reflect the experiences of indigenous people, and our lofty values of freedom and democracy fail to recognize the disenfranchisement of African Americans, women, and poor people in general.
Our national narratives are rapidly changing. As more threads are interwoven, these fabrics will better reflect the reality of our history and of all the people who live in our country. We can facilitate this change by sharing our own perspectives and by ensuring platforms exist for people of color to share their experiences and be heard by all.
At Veterans for Peace, much of our activism is focused around changing the narrative of American foreign policy. Often the actions of our Empire abroad are filtered through our media or are hidden from us altogether. These narratives of “national defense” do not include the stories of people around the world who suffer because of our foreign policies. When was the last time we read a news story about the thousands of children starving to death in Yemen because American weapons were dropped on hospitals, food supply routes, and water infrastructure? Or Venezuelans and Iranians not being able to access medicine because of American sanctions?
Adding more threads to these national narratives is a slow process and requires patience. We can however see the immediate effects in the society around us if we look hard enough. No amount of brow-beating can force individuals to change their own perspective. All that we can do is continue to add more perspectives so that as people become more open to them, the information is available and accessible.
—Christopher Overfelt, a member of Veterans for Peace, serves on the Board of PeaceWorks-KC. Illustration by Bernardo Ramonfaur at unsplash.com/s/photos/indigenous-people.