The Arc Doesn’t Bend on Its Own: Arcus Leaders on the Path to Justice in Challenging Times

November 2, 2020|Annette Lanjouw, Chief Executive Officer, Arcus Foundation| Jon Stryker, President and Founder, Arcus Foundation

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as a letter to readers of “Bending the Arc,” Arcus’ new annual report, which can be explored at 2019.arcusfoundation.org.

Early in 2020, we made a final decision to make our annual report in a new and exciting digital format. Not only did we want to use it to report on what we and our many partners accomplished in 2019, we also realized we needed to reflect a bit on an important milestone for the foundation: our 20th anniversary. But it soon became clear that the pandemic was really all we could think about. Many if not practically all aspects and priorities of our lives and work would dramatically diverge from what we thought of as “normal.” How long this period will last still remains unclear. The COVID-19 pandemic and global protests against systemic anti-Black racism have changed the way people everywhere, work, shop, travel, worship, and learn. It may even be changing how they think.

Since the pandemic began, the Arcus team has been operating “virtually,” keeping in close touch with our grantee partners who are on the frontlines advancing the welfare of the populations and individuals most at risk of harm. The continuity of their work continues to be our priority. We owe tremendous thanks to our board members and staff who have and continue to lean in and ensure that Arcus is a strong and constant partner and resource to the movements we serve. The pandemic and other developments of recent months have strenuously reaffirmed the mission, goals, and strategies at Arcus.

Destruction of nature is not only exposing us to a panoply of diseases and challenges to our health, but creating and exacerbating social injustice and political repression all over the world. Humans are acting on insufficient understanding of the vital role that nature plays, inadequate respect and valuing of non-human life, and the short-term pursuit of economic gain. People around the globe are driving this destructive degradation through unsustainable and inequitable exploitation of land, water and other natural resources. Climate change and environmental devastation are only too real, and we are now living with their only too real consequences.

Destruction of nature is not only exposing us to a panoply of diseases and challenges to our health, but creating and exacerbating social injustice and political repression all over the world.

Opening up forest ecosystems, destroying natural habitats, and consuming wildlife exposes humans to viruses, bacteria, and other diseases that we have barely begun to identify, understand or know how to deal with. All of these disturbing factors disproportionately harm people in low-income countries as well as poor and otherwise marginalized people in high-income countries. Lack of access to health care, good nutrition, and the basic means for survival leave people vulnerable to the effects of unpredictable and historic floods and droughts, previously unimaginable storms, rising sea levels, declining agricultural production, and unsafe water. And of course, under these circumstances, a wide range of health problems are aggravated, worker productivity is reduced, and the quality of life for all is diminished.

In every place where we see this scenario playing out, LGBTQ communities served by our Social Justice Program live at the intersection of this long chain of degradation—environmental and social. We have even seen authorities use a pandemic as a pretext for silencing activists, including LGBTQ people. We cannot address one without simultaneously and equally addressing the others.

In every place where we see this scenario playing out, LGBTQ communities served by our Social Justice Program live at the intersection of this long chain of degradation–environmental and social.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by these momentous and simultaneous challenges facing humanity, as climate change, a deadly pandemic, brutal and repressive law enforcement, and authoritarian and populist political systems gain strength around the world, and the resulting economic recession leads to widespread unemployment and business failures. The months of confinement, social isolation, and lack of clear leadership due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to much suffering and stress, and it is at moments hard to see how we can move forward toward more constructive and positive change.

What is important to understand however, is that all of these challenges, environmental and social, are inextricably linked and function as a formidable, integrated system; by focusing on some of the key triggers, there is the real opportunity for Arcus—and our partners in both conservation and social justice—to disrupt and mitigate their collective threat with effective solutions.

The title of this year’s annual report is “Bending the Arc.” It reminds us of this famous quote:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

We believe, however beautiful Martin Luther King Jr.’s frequently quoted paraphrase of 19th Century abolitionist Theodore Parker—it is often misinterpreted. The arc we all imagine that bends toward justice has never been wrought simply by itself. Nothing about that arc has ever been easy or inevitable, but rather that metaphorical arc is a product of many generations of extremely hardworking activists who have sometimes even given their lives to cause that miraculous trajectory to occur.

It is critically important to continue the work in imagining what is possible, believing in the beauty of our dreams, and, most importantly, marshalling the energy and fortitude to strategize and act. Like all life on this planet, we at Arcus remain dependent on so many variables, both within and completely beyond our control. While the path forward is littered with diverse challenges, we are confident that with the amazing creativity and talent of our staff, board, grantees, and stakeholders, we will find a way to conquer those obstacles and realize our vision of living in harmony with one another and the natural world.

It is in that spirit that we have integrated this year’s annual reporting with the thoughts and writings of a number of our remarkable movement partners, many of them Arcus grantees, on the prospects and strategies for realizing real change in our chaotic, ever-changing, and perilous world. We are confident that their thinking will provoke and inspire you as they do us. Let us continue working together and keep bending that arc toward justice.