49 years later, another call to conscience

“We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane conviction must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.”

It’s important to hear this today, 49 years after the speaker — Dr. Martin Luther King — was assassinated, 50 years to the date that he spoke those exact words. Words that, sadly, are just as appropriate today.

Given the state of the country, the world, I sought wisdom and counsel by re-reading some of Dr. King’s speeches in a compilation called A Call to Conscience. What struck me most was how so much of what he said still applies today.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Why use my words when his cut right to the heart of our problems?

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

“Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness.”

Indeed.

“A time comes when silence is betrayal…The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.”

Men in power — corrupt men — use this to their advantage to reap even more profit and sow more injustice. So, what are we to do?

“We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever the Pharoah wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves.”

Sound familiar?

“Let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice…when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”

Hope!

Now here’s where it gets even more interesting given the current administration:

“All we say to America is be true to what you said on paper. If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions [for 2017: executive orders]. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there.”

“But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”

Finally, I implore you to follow his last request, regardless of how the current changes in policies affect you, because the drastic shifts the GOP wants to enact will hurt millions of Americans — seniors, veterans, children and more — as well as the many immigrants who come in search of the American Dream.

“When we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school, be there. Be concerned about your brother…either we go up together or we go down together.”

Let’s choose to rise up together.


The body of this essay includes Dr. King’s words from two speeches — the first, “Beyond Vietnam,” was delivered on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, and the second was from his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” which was delivered at Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968, the night before he was killed. My source was the book “A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” edited by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard. I urge you to read it. Peace.

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