With Liberty and Justice for All

Students holding sign that reads "unity in humanity"

April 12, 2018

The following is Idaho State Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb's keynote address at Gonzaga's 2017 International Conference on Hate Studies. She introduced her message with great enthusiasm for the powerful energy surrounding the efforts to interrupt a growing atmosphere of hate and division.

I awakened early this morning - enthused, excited, energized. It is my great honor to be a part of the 4th International Conference on Hate Studies. I am grateful for each one assembled today focused engaging with communities for justice. There is a powerful energy in this place. 

We are here to develop, acknowledge and leverage the formidable talents of those present. We are here to look forward with enthusiasm to the opportunities and challenges of the future. We are here to build upon the strength, wisdom, wit and genius that is uniquely in this place at this time. We are about courageously and compassionately connecting with one another. We gather to interrupt a growing atmosphere of inflamed hate, separation and division. We are here to investigate the root of escalating violence and intimidation. We come together to address domestic terrorism, hate speak and the resulting tragedies. And it’s a good thing.

Complacency is not an option. This is a painful time in the life of America and much of the world. We must not turn away, we must face this insidious plague that is before us. We must intentionally turn toward each other to interrupt domination, extraction and violence. Yes it is a great honor to be in this assembly of phenomenal, purposeful, passionate, powerful men and women.

The United States takes great pride in declaring ourselves to be a beacon of fairness and equity.

The theory and concept is powerful! The opportunity for everyone to exist in a state of equity is implied in The Pledge of Allegiance:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

But yet, it is clear that in reality, liberty nor justice is available to all citizens of the United States. And if we are not vigilant and purposeful, access to justice will become more and more tenuous for a greater number of our population.   

We must work collectively and collaboratively to ensure that every member of society has the same basic rights, protection, opportunities, obligations and social benefits. We - you and I - are responsible to ensure that justice is meted out equitably. We are accountable to see that justice prevails. We are responsible to ensure that justice is a reality for every human being.

Over the next couple of days we have the opportunity to take stock. It is my sincere hope that we all will renew our commitment to honor our responsibility to one another, to your community and to those most vulnerable and least able to advocate for themselves. We have the power and responsibility to interrupt injustice wherever it exists. It is my hope that we will join together to speak out for the rights of all. As we leave this place it is my prayer that we will strive, together, to create a community of mutuality, one of care and concern for every man, woman and child.  

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”

Many of you grew up reciting those words from the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.” But even in grade school, it was clear to me that only some were included in “all." I remember when I was a child, someone burned a cross in our front yard. (I remind you I was born in Boise, Idaho.)  My mom took the opportunity for a teachable moment I’ve never forgotten. I came to understand that some are entitled to more liberty and justice than others. They were a year late!

Frederik Douglas: an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman during the 1800s stated:

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Ida B. Wells: journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, echoed the sentiment:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, and it does seem that notwithstanding all those social agencies and activities there is not vigilance, which should be exercised in the preservation of our rights."

"Don’t be deceived, there is no justice except strength." - Marcus Garvey

"To protest against injustice is the foundation of all our American Democracy." - Thurgood Marshall

It would seem that justice is not uniformly defined or endowed equally.

Brings to mind a Billie Holiday Song:

Them that’s got shall get shall gain,
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible says, but it still is news
Momma may have, papa may have,
But God Bless the Child that’s Got his own…

Justice Defined

  1. The quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness

  2. Fairness: fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made

  3. Application of law: the legal system, or the act of applying or upholding the law

It sounds so simple. It would seem that human kind is hard-wired to seek justice. And yet who sits in judgment - who determines what is just?  

Who is responsible for equitable administration of justice? Who will ensure it is possible and attainable for the masses, not just a privileged few?

I fear, that at times, in our humanness, our own unconscious biases may negatively impact the fair application of justice for diverse populations. It is imperative that we hold each other accountable.

Liberty Defined

The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views.

How are we doing? Major inequities have been quantified in a multitude of arenas and presumed identity groups.

Justice System

  • Black people 3 times as likely to be searched during traffic stop
  • Blacks are twice as likely to be arrested
  • Legal representation


White men with criminal record are more likely to get a call back for job interview than black man with no criminal record (17% vs 14%).


Average white household has 13-16 times the wealth of Mexican and Black households.

Medical Treatment/Health Care

Studies have reveled ongoing disparities in care of emergency rooms dependent on the patient being white or a person of color or poor ... they are less likely to be given pain meds at the recommended level... there's an ongoing finding about lack of attention given to black women and breast cancer...often found at advanced staged rather than early detection.


  • Education
  • Access
  • Accountability
  • Resources

Lack of liberty and access to justice contributes to an inequitable, sometimes volatile environment.

What unites us:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Country of origin
  • Education
  • Color
  • Who you love
  • Where you live
  • Politics
  • Athletics
  • Apathy
  • Income
  • Zeal
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Laws
  • Lawlessness
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation

What divides us:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Country of origin
  • Education
  • Color
  • Who you love
  • Where you live
  • Politics
  • Athletics
  • Apathy
  • Income
  • Zeal
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Laws
  • Lawlessness
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation


You don’t have to look far: open your paper, watch the news, listen to your radio. Hate across the face of America, in our state, your town – maybe even your neighborhood. Far reaching hate is evident and directed toward members of the LGBTQ community, Blacks, Hispanics, refugees, Immigrants, Muslims and more. We are seeing an increase in white fear as a response to changing demographics.

It is time for:

  • truth telling
  • facing our fears
  • calling on people of conscience to condemn acts of violence
  • vigorously opposing and purposefully taking action to end hateful violent attacks

These situations call for justice for all. We must allow the rebirth of the terrorism of a painful time in the history of America: a reign of terror that including lynching, maiming and killing.

In order to move beyond the -isms that continue to paralyze our societies toward enlightened diverse communities requires purposeful, courageous action. It requires a choice. It requires taking risk. It requires having difficult conversations. It requires leadership. It requires a choice – a choice to be a change agent.

Look, we can start with cleaning up our language:

  1. If you are offended or hurt when you heard Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called bitch or whore, you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump or Kellyanne Conway.
  2. If you felt belittled when Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables” then you should have felt equally concerned when Eric Trump said “Democrats aren’t even human.”
  3. When the president of the United States calls women dogs or talks about grabbing their bodies, we should be outraged. When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardless of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t relegate human beings to sub-human.
  4. When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should question whether it is an attempt to diminish their humanity so we can injure them (or worse) or deny them basic human rights.
  5. There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day.
  6. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.

Be about the business of making yourself ready to meet the challenges that will come. It takes more than desire, education and experience. It requires purpose and preparation. In the words of Frederick Buechner, author, poet, minister, “pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death." Get ready. 

Know that the simple act of caring has a ripple effect. It is time to move away from that either/or mentality, because it presents a false dichotomy. The best one can hope for is to balance polarities – there are no absolutes.

Consider that there is more than one way.

We, each and every man under the sound of my voice, we have a charge to keep: I challenge to you be about the

  • Elimination of injustice
  • Eradication of racist rhetoric
  • Evisceration of hate

It is time that we join together to form a mighty militia:

  • Champions of Compassion
  • Emissaries for Equity
  • Ambassadors of Humanity
  • Zealots for Liberty
  • Warriors for Justice

Oh, I’m proud to be a soldier in that army: undergirded, supported and empowered.

I’m Undergirded by:

  • An understanding of our interconnectedness
  • An inheritance of the demonstrated courageous actions of the legions who came before – those who fought valiantly
  • A calling to serve

I’m Supported by:

  • Committed men and women from across the world
  • A host of individuals with a powerful history of striving to ensure that each and every human being is treated with dignity and respect
  • My faith

I’m empowered by:

A vision for the future – not only for the next generation, not just for my children and my granddaughter, but rather for seven generations to come, because truly, what we do today sets the foundation.
What’s in your arsenal? What do you bring to the fight for liberty and justice? What skills, knowledge, attributes, and abilities will you take to your communities?

You know the answers:

  • Collaboration, influence, knowledge, expertise
  • The desire to make things happen
  • Strength, vision, vitality
  • The power to act
  • Diverse perspectives
  • Unique sensibilities
  • Power to choose, power to act
  • Purpose
  • The desire to make the trip together – with emphasis on the long term impact

As you go forward in the mighty quest to realize liberty and justice for all, I share with you Cherie’s Rules of Engagement:

  1. Stand up: Commit, take action against acts of hatred and in support of those victimized.
  2. Show up: Be there, attending fully, participating, representing your values.
  3. Speak up: Find your voice, use it effectively, speak clearly and plainly.
  4. Shut up: Know when to be still and listen. Know that listening is often an invaluable tool.
  5. Make up: Reconciliation will be necessary. There is no perfect approach. Demonstrate compassion. Humanity cannot survive without it.
  6. Re-up: Periodically take time to recommit, review the purpose, seek clarity and obtain good counsel as needed. And you will need it.
  7. Look up: Find that power greater than yourself and stay connected. Seek strength and direction.

I close with a prayer on my lips and a song in my heart:

As we come together today we call up on that power greater than ourselves to light our path, to order our steps, to instill in us the spirit of unity. As we open our hearts in gratitude for this gathering – fill us with anticipation, eager for the opportunity to chart a new course.

We ask that you would instill in us a spirit of collaboration, and the desire to move forward together with vigor, enthusiasm and heart to unleash the power that lies within this body of committed, purposeful men and women. Let us lift one another up, give us focus, purpose and grace.

We give thanks for the gifts you have bestowed upon us and ask for the guidance to use them with wisdom and compassion. We ask that you grant us the courage and conviction to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time. 

Where there is fear - give us courage. 

Where there is doubt - lead us to confidence.

Where there is disagreement - bring resolution.

Let us move forward in wholeness, cognizant of the impact of our actions and the decisions we make this day and in the future. Grant that we would stand ever committed and immovable advocates for justice and equity. Empower us that we might run this race and not get weary. Lead, guide and direct that we might leave a mighty legacy for generations to come.  Grant that we would live lives worthy of the opportunity and privilege we have been afforded.

We ask these blessings, this day.

And so it is, and so I let it be. Amen.


  • Diversity & Inclusion