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"Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue"

A letter from Jeffrey Sachs, SDSN President




To the Members of the SDSN Community, These are deeply troubling days for the United States, which is a country of deep contradictions. The nation was born in soaring hopes of freedom and the harsh realities of genocide against Native Americans. It champions the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and yet built a society on the basis of mass slavery and mass discrimination. It champions diversity for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and yet its officers of the law kill African-Americans at will on our streets and rip children from the arms of mothers desperately seeking refuge in the U.S. Our nation has passed through repeated paroxysms of protest and violence related to the scourge of racism. As a child in the 1960s, my early political awareness was shaped by the murders of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., the primary-election victory of racist George Wallace in my home state of Michigan in 1972, and the wanton and gratuitous violence of the Vietnam War, itself stoked by ignorance and anti-Asian bigotry. The Detroit area, where I grew up, was wracked by widespread and persistent bigotry and violence against African-Americans. Thanks to brave and remarkable champions of social justice, our nation has made important and crucial advances in human rights, but it has also suffered cruel reversals, including the current disastrous and dangerous presidency of Donald Trump. Our job and responsibility is justice for all, whenever and wherever we can pursue it. The lines of Deuteronomy in my daughter’s Bat-Mitzvah reading summarized it perfectly: “Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof,” meaning “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue.” This is our highest calling as individuals and as citizens. We are blessed in our work and in our collegial life to be dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals (blessed in the original sense of being happy and fulfilled). The SDGs are based on the core injunction of justice: “Leave no one behind.” We therefore act on behalf of a universal agenda grounded in the great moral charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is good to recall the first article of the Declaration: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Today’s brave fighters against police brutality towards African-Americans speak to the highest calling of equality in dignity and rights. With Trump as President, America is perilously close to despotism in the service of racism and hate. The world is perilously close to a new cold war deliberately stoked by racism and nativism. And yet the very brave protestors throughout the U.S., who have inspired activists for racial justice around the world, are bearing witness to the overwhelming desire of humanity to 2 live in peace, social justice, and sustainability, and give us great hope for progress on these shared aspirations. I thank you, colleagues, for your daily efforts for global justice. This work never stops, and it is obviously more urgent than ever. Let us together do our part to honor the memories of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and all who suffer wantonly and unnecessarily because we have not yet achieved the soaring aspirations of the United States, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Your grateful colleague, Jeff Sachs

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