What would Martin Luther King Jr. say to President Obama?

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

By John Lewis, Published: August 26

Forty-eight years ago Sunday, when Martin Luther King Jr. was about to make his historic speech on the National Mall, I was huddled close to the statue of Abraham Lincoln, tapping on a portable typewriter, making last-minute changes to my own speech. As the newly elected chair of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, speaking at the March on Washington was one of my first important actions. Dr. King spoke tenth; I was sixth. Today, I am the last surviving speaker from the march.When I think back on that day, and the hundreds of thousands of people who responded to the call to march on Washington, there is no question that many things have changed. Then, Martin Luther King Jr. was a controversial figure taking risks so that his voice might be heard. Today, the mere mention of his speech — and its powerful “I have a dream” refrain — evokes hope for the future, stirring memories of the past and mandates for change, but the context in which Dr. King delivered those words was quite different.
In April of 1963, just a few months before the march, he had written his now famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” advocating the moral imperative of non-violent protest by faith leaders.  In May, the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham,  Eugene “Bull” Connor, had used police dogs and fire hoses on children engaged in peaceful protest in the city.  And in June, civil rights activist Medgar Evers was killed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan outside of Evers’s home near Jackson, Miss.The March on Washington represented a coalition of labor leaders, civil rights organizations and faith groups united in their call for governments and members of civilized society to defend human dignity, especially at a time when that dignity was under siege.We have come a long way since then. If Martin Luther King Jr. were here today, he would take heart in the fact that the vestiges of legalized segregation are gone. He would be amazed that a likeness of him had been placed on the National Mall. And he would be gratified that the United States had elected its first African-American president.Yes, we have come a great distance — but we still have a great distance to go. King’s speech was a cogent statement about the need for civil rights, but its deepest purpose was about much more. His dream was about more than racial justice, though racism often represents the greatest moral stain on our society. His dream was about building a society based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.That effort is the true legacy of King’s dream. Were he alive today, it is telling that his message would still be essentially the same. It is troubling that unemployment is so high — indeed, far higher than it was in 1963 — and that we are so caught up in details of deficits and debt ceilings that we question whether government has any moral duty to serve the poor, help feed the hungry and assist the sick. Today, Dr. King would still be asking questions that reveal the moral meaning of our policies. And he would still challenge our leaders to answer those questions — and to act on their beliefs.

Among those leaders, I know he would take a special interest in President Obama — not only because he is the first African-American to sit in the Oval Office, but because Dr. King recognized the power of one man to transform a nation. He would say that the president has the capacity to unify America, to bring us together as one people, one family, one house.  He would say that a leader has the ability to inspire people to greatness, but that to do so he must be daring, courageous and unafraid to demonstrate what he is made of.As a minister, never elected to any public office, Dr. King would tell this young leader that it is his moral obligation to use his power and influence to help those who have been left out and left behind.  He would encourage him to get out of Washington, to break away from handlers and advisers and go visit the people where they live. He would urge him to meet the coal miners of West Virginia; to shake the hands of the working poor in our large urban centers, juggling mutiple jobs to try to make ends meet; to go to the barrios of the Southwest; and to visit native Americans on their reservations.  He would urge Obama to feel the hurt and pain of those without work, of mothers and their children who go to bed hungry at night, of the families living in shelters after losing their homes, and of the elderly who chose between buying medicine and paying the rent.

Dr. King would say that a Nobel Peace Prize winner can and must find a way to demonstrate that he is a man of peace, a man of love and non-violence.  He would say it is time to bring an end to war and get our young men and women out of harm’s way. Dr. King would assert without hesi­ta­tion that war is obsolete, that it destroys the very soul of a nation, that it wastes human lives and natural resources.

A. Philip Randolph, the dean of the civil rights movement and the convener of the March on Washington, once advocated creating what he called a “freedom budget” that would be a collection point for the resources government would use to help create jobs, rebuild infrastructure, clean up the waterways and make sure we have clean air to breathe and nutritious food to eat. I think Dr. King would ask why we couldn’t do something like this today.

He would say that Obama’s election represents a significant step toward laying down the burden of race, but that this task is not yet complete. The election of 2008 was a major down payment on Dr. King’s dream, but it did not fulfill it. When one member of Congress calls the president a “tar baby” on a radio show and when another cries out “You lie!” during a State of the Union address, it is more than clear that we still do not understand the need to respect human dignity despite our differences.

Dr. King would tell this young president to do what he can to end discrimination based on race, color, religious faith and sexual orientation. He would say that righteous work makes its own way. There is no need to put a finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. There is no need to match each step to the latest opinion poll. The people of this country recognize when a leader is trying to do what is right. Take a stand, he would say. Go with your gut. Let the people of this country see that you are fighting for them and they will have your back.

There will be opposition, and it might become ugly. Dr. King faced frequent threats on his life and the bombing of his home, and he and his family were in constant danger. He had no protection beyond his faith. But he believed in the power of the truth to expose what is wrong in America. He often quoted the notion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And the reason it does is because of the central goodness of humankind.

Martin Luther King Jr. believed that once people heard the truth, their tendency to bend toward what is right would pave the way for goodness to prevail. And it still can.


Malcolm X quote from Feb 4, 1965

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

On Feb 4, 1965, Malcolm X said this near the end of a talk he gave: “If all of us are going to live as human beings, as brothers, then I’m for a society of human beings that can practice brotherhood.”

Thank you, Jack Layton, for letting us express what is in our hearts

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

The reaction to Jack Layton’s death shows us that Canadians want to change Canada to be a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity.

Sean pointed out that we want to change things and we have a good idea about about what we want to accomplish.  Have we thought about how we want to do it?

Jack Layton wrote:

“Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly.”

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. (among others) expressed the idea that nonviolence was the way to bring about this kind of change, because nonviolence is both the ends and the means; the goal, and the way to achieve it.

So we start as we mean to go on.  Makes sense to me.

What would my life be like if…

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

What would my life be like if it were socially unacceptable to have excess stuff or acquire resources for individual or private use?

Would I get excited about my friends buying smaller homes or opening up their homes to others?

Would I share cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, rakes, ladders, books, dishes, chairs, … with everyone in our neighbourhood?

Would I replace shoes, clothes, etc. instead of adding to them?

What would be considered excess?

What would I feel compelled to own myself?

What would I share?

What wouldn’t I share?  Why not?

To understand is to “stand under” the others’ perspective

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. says that to understand is to be able to “stand under”  the perspective of the other.  This doesn’t mean you agree with their perspective, but it does mean that you understand it well enough to be able to represent it.  Once you have that level of understanding of the conflict from both perspectives (yours AND theirs), it is possible to see the solutions that will address the interests of both parties.

One of the 6 steps of Kingian Nonviolence is Negotiation. I have noticed that William Ury’s Principled Negotiation (described in Getting to Yes and Getting Past No)  is very consistent with Kingian Nonviolence. The books describing this approach go further into details about how to focus on the interests of all parties in the context of a negotiation.

I recommend  reading William Ury’s Getting to Yes and Getting past No for those interested in developing their skills in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation further.

2-day workshop: Introduction to the principles and practices of nonviolence

August 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

See Calendar of Events for a list of scheduled workshops in Canada.

Introduction to the principles and practices of nonviolence as derived from the methods and philosophy espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This workshop is for people interested in promoting peace, nonviolence & social change in their communities. It is useful for individuals who:

• want to build community
• work with young people
• respond to conflict situations
• experience violence or injustice at any level.

It provides a framework for conflict reconciliation.

This 2-day workshop gives participants a comprehensive introduction to Martin Luther King Jr’s philosophy, thinking and strategy. It introduces key concepts and important background information about “Kingian” nonviolence, including core values, conflict analysis, nonviolent historical movements, dynamics of social change, and study of several of the most important essays written by Dr. King.

See Calendar of Events for a list of scheduled workshops in Canada.

For more information and to register, contact nonviolenceworkshop (at) gmail.com or call 613-761-9997. You can also register by clicking here.

Workshop facilitator: Amy Dillon, Certified as a Level II Trainer in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation by the University of Rhode Island Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies.

Participants will receive a Briefing Booklet, which was designed by Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and David C. Jehnsen to provide a general introduction to the Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation Program.

Violence is often the desperate voice of the unheard

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve read that violence is often the desperate voice of the unheard.

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