but the silence of our friends."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Over the course of the next few days millions of people around the world will be celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. followed by the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. During this time there will be an untold number of references to the links between Dr. King's dream, the civil rights movement, and the inauguration of the first African-American President of the US.
However what will often be left out of the discussions about "The Dream" and its fulfillment will be an acknowledgment that Dr. King's vision was as much about the evolution of a non-violent society and the achievement socio-economic opportunity as it was about racial equality.
I am sure that if Dr. King were with us he would be as overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of Barack Obama taking the oath of office as many of us will be. Yet I feel confident that he would be equally moved and speaking out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis on the working class fighting, the crisis in healthcare, Guantanemo and torture.
Dr. King was against war, even retaliatory ones. He was against injustice in all forms and therefore, I am sure would have been against a suspension on habeas corpus, detention without trial, extraordinary rendition, torture, and illegally spying on private citizens. I also believe that while Dr. King would be calling the nation to unity, he would also be loudly speaking out about the police shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant while he laid handcuffed on a Bay area subway platform.
In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dr King stated:
"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.
I believe that even amid today's motor bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.
I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land."
Now many people would say that now is not the time to bring up these things. Now is a time for celebrating how far we, as Americans, have come. To them I reply, yes now is a time for celebrating but as Alice Walker once said, "No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow". Now is precisely the time for the "friends" of Dr. King's Dream and the new administration to break the silence.
As Marcia G. Yerman cited in her recent article "Obama and the Progressive Community" for The Huffington Post:
"A litmus test for many will be the stand that the Obama administration puts forth on accountability regarding the actions of Bush and his key players on the issue of torture and civil rights. The conversation is out there, and has been featured in numerous posts including a January 9th article at Talking Points Memo by Elana Schor. Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Law Professor at George Washington University, has been seen on both the Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow shows, where he has been explaining the high stakes for all Americans in getting this right." Yerman later writes: " As Amy Goodman said to me, referencing the election of Obama, 'This is just an opportunity. The change hasn't happened yet.' Underscoring the need for each individual to be a part of the solution, she stressed, 'The lesson is -- it is completely up to you.'"Yes, it is up to us speak out, to speak loudly and to speak often as the dream unfolds. In the months and years to come let us not be remembered for our silence.
I leave you with these thoughts from Dr. King.
delivered April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church
" These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; [Audience:] (Yes) the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: 'Let us love one another, (Yes) for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.' 'If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.' Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.
We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: 'Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.'
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, 'Too late.' There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: 'The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.' "
" Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. " Martin Luther King Jr., December 11, 1964
"The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers. " from 'Strength to Love,' 1963
" I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. "--- from Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964
"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. " --- Strength to Love, 1963
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