We are living in a time of great peril and possibility. In 1957, with the Montgomery bus boycott, we embarked on a journey that enlarged the soul of America. We found the courage to question what kind of people we were and the wisdom to change ourselves into a people offering new hope in the world. The struggles of African Americans for full citizenship and dignity inspired more than a half century of progressive movements in the United States and around the world.
Today we no longer inspire hope in those who have been despised, displaced, and devalued. Instead, we inspire fear, terror, and division. More than 40 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned that unless we engaged in a great revolution of values and overcame racism, materialism and militarism, we would be “dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
Now, we face a constitutional crisis brought on by the acts of a president who has placed himself above the law, is conducting an illegal war, subverting the Constitution, and willfully ignoring a planetary crisis that threatens the future of life on earth. We are losing faith in our capacity to create the world anew.
Few of our ancestors were among those who founded this nation more than 200 years ago and who established the political, economic and social patterns that have brought us to this present crisis. But none of us can step back from the responsibility of becoming part of the solution. Because of the struggles of working people in factories and on farms, African Americans, women, Chicanos, Native Americans and immigrants, gay people, youth, and the disabled, all of us have a new “burden and responsibility.” All of us have the opportunity to engage in the process of creating a new, more human, more socially conscious, and ecologically responsible nation.
This year, as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and commemorate the last year of his life, we encourage you to consider his deepest call to the generations to come:
“Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours.”
As we celebrate his life, let us find the courage to confront the questions:
- On peace and war:
How do we restore relationships of respect and integrity within the community of nations?
- On sustainable living:
How do we live more simply so that others may simply live?
- On immigration:
How can we protect our brothers and sisters from other lands?
- On healthy communities:
How do we create and restore ways of living that encourage the imagination and productive capacities of our young people?
- On justice:
How do we guarantee that all have the basic human right to education, sustenance, and respect?
Dr. King had faith that if we confronted the questions of our time, honestly, together we would create an America we could all be proud to call our own:
“If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Initiating signers of this call for Beloved Communities: Grace Lee Boggs, Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership; Rachel Harding, Veterans of Hope; Shea Howell, Detroit Summer; Rev. Nelson Johnson, Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, N. C.; John Maguire, Institute for Democratic Renewal/Project Change; Kathy Wan Povi Sanchez, Tewa Women United; Shirley Strong, Institute for Democratic Renewal/Project Change.
This commentary is part of Stop Global Warming Cold, the Spring 2008 issue of YES! Magazine.