Living King’s Words in Changing Times
I wonder if Martin Luther King, Jr. had lived would he have endorsed his birthday as a national holiday? Maybe he would have said we should have a Civil Rights Day and honor all of the people whose lives were dedicated to obtaining civil rights for all Americans, beginning with the abolitionists and underground railroad heroes such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Or maybe he would have suggested a national holiday to recognize the first peoples of this nation and all they have contributed from the Iroqouis concept of true Democracy, to how to grow foods and how to survive in harsh lands. Since this observance exists how should we celebrate this year?
This year, 2012, is a five year, the number of change. Change was the slogan of the 2008 Obama campaign and change will continue with the re-election of this country’s first African-American president. Yet, too many people fear change, particularly those who are invested in the comforts of the status quo. But, change is the natural order of life, from the constant cellular metamorphosis each individual body goes through every day to the cataclysmic upheavals of earthquakes and tornadoes. No corporation, legislative bill, law, or weapon can prevent or control such natural changes.
Likewise, on a social level, social change moves forward not backward in the USA. Economic conditions do go up and down, that is the nature of a capitalist economy. But women’s rights, not only to vote and to work, but also to control their own bodies will not be surrendered. The rights of the so-called “minorities” Black people, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, homosexuals and women, are now, taken together, the growing majority, will never again be pushed to the back of the bus.
King emphasized compassion and sacrifice, two qualities largely missing from the political and social discourse of the 21st century. But, now during this year of change is the time to resurrect compassion and sacrifice to bring about a truly democratic society guaranteeing everyone freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. So, let’s imagine how King, by recalling his words, would answer some of today’s pressing questions.
1. What do you think about the OWS movement?
The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood. We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
2. How can we improve our failing economy?
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary. Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. It is part of the earth man walks on. It is not man. Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think. The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
3. How should we end terrorism and the threat of war?
Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. 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. The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
4. How would you address the Libertarian and Tea Party positions that oppose social and antidiscrimination programs?
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others. All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America. In doing so, the affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question: How responsible am I for the well-being of my fellows? To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.
5. What do you feel is the most effective strategy for maintaining social and economic justice?
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.