In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day, I was planning on writing a piece about Dr. King’s impact on US culture. But in reading some of his speeches, I was struck by how relevant his words still are today. Forty-three years after his death, history is once again repeating itself:
“The mood in the…community…is a mood of great disappointment and despair and even bitterness as a result of the slow pace of progress and as a result of the fact that in some instances, things have gotten worse, particularly in the economic area. And I think the impatience is very deep and the discontent is very broad and if something isn’t done … then I see us sinking into darker nights of social situations.”
“…The best way to resolve the problems is to work through peaceful, non-violent means…we either need to have peaceful co-existence or violent annihilation.”
“The war is…so futile and bloody and costly that no one should be fighting there…. We are on the losing end both there and at home because as long as the war in Vietnam continues, social programs will inevitably suffer here at home…”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”
This time we find ourselves in not one, but two wars, both incredibly unpopular (63% of Americans oppose both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars). The defense department is currently spending half a trillion dollars per year, by far the biggest portion of the federal government’s discretionary budget. Over the last ten years, our defense budget has doubled.
Meanwhile, the country has been mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression. The lack of funding has brought deep cuts to our domestic government spending, and the education system has been hit especially hard. Unemployment is high and many are unable to find jobs. Even college graduates can’t find work.
People are angry and frustrated and want to see real change, but Americans are deeply divided about what direction these changes should take. And the frustration has brought about many instances of targeted violence, including the latest tragedy in Arizona.
The sixties was a violence and tumultuous time, and Dr. King helped bring sanity to the madness. King brought about dramatic changes to society at large, like getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. And he did it by using the democratic system as it was meant to be used, not by resorting to violence. Had leaders that encouraged violence, like Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, been the only voices for change, it is likely that the sixties would have been a giant bloodbath that resulted in little forward progress.
I hope the leaders of today take King’s messages and principals to heart. We prevented a civil war in the sixties by using peace and democracy, and we can do it again this time around.
I am closing with a couple more quotes from King, wise words that always hold true:
“Our loyalties to the country should be measured by our ability to lead the nation to higher heights of democracy and the brokering of justice and humanity.
“My slogan is build, baby, build. Organize, baby, organize. Learn, baby, learn. So you can earn, baby, earn.”
Written by Christi Grab, Parentella’s Editorial Director and author of The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part 1 – San Diego to Australia. She is currently working on book two of the series.
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