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Whither the Dream | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Whither the Dream

This post was updated on January 20, and then again on January 21.

From 1961 to 1966, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an annual essay for The Nation on the state of civil rights and race relations in America. His 1965 contribution was particularly resonant. This article originally appeared in the March 15, 1965, issue. Dr. King's words ominously ring as true today as the day they were written more than forty years ago.

"'Let Justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream,' said the Prophet Amos. He was seeking not consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary change. America has made progress toward freedom, but measured against the goal the road ahead is still long and hard. This could be the worst possible moment for slowing down."

Here are some other links to articles marking the King holiday and suggesting ways we can try to live up to, and extend, his momentous legacy. (Please use the comments field below to suggest additional resources and ideas.)

Bruce Wallace talks to Taylor Branch, King's biographer about presidents, racial injustice, poverty and war.

Ashley Luthern looks at how King has inspired generations of non-violent protesting

Thanks to YouTube we can watch King's "I Have a Dream" speech given on August 28, 1963 on the national mall in Washington, DC.

On his PBS show this past Friday night, Bill Moyers included a mesmerizing seven-minute segment on the relationship of his former boss, President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King (and more broadly, the civil rights movement.) Watch it on on YouTube.

It really cuts through a lot of the recent tempest about the credit due to MLK and LBJ around civil rights legislation, honors the memory of Dr. King, puts LBJ's efforts in proper perspective, and addresses the broader theme of the importance of having both "outside agitators" and inside deal-makers to foster progressive change.

Finally, I thought this call sent to me by the great young environmental activist Billy Parrish was well-worth amplifying....

Honoring Dr. King with a Just and Sustainable Economic Stimulus

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated forty years ago in Memphis, he was there to help support the long struggle of the city's sanitation workers for decent jobs and dignity. He was also speaking out against the Vietnam War and organizing a Poor People's March on Washington and an Economic Bill of Rights, calling for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America's cities. In "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community", the last book he wrote before he was killed, he writes:

"There is a need for a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society...For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property-and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power. Let us, therefore, not think of our movement as one that seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society. Let us be those creative dissenters who call our beloved nation to a higher destiny."

Today the struggles for economic and racial justice must merge with the struggle to stop global warming. Its worst effects will be visited on the poor, and the great economic opportunity a clean energy future offers should be shared fairly with them. Equal protection and equal opportunity was what King demanded in the 1960s. We should be demanding the same today.

As Congress prepares a giant Economic Stimulus package -- up to $150 billion in emergency spending and George Bush suggests that it again be more tax cuts for the rich -- there is no better way to honor Dr. King's memory and continue his struggle than to demand that Congress go green and go equal in the stimulus. Click here to send a message to your member of Congress:

"In considering your economic stimulus package, please work to ensure that all proposed tax cuts and direct spending promote a clean energy economy and opportunities for poor and working class people. Through strategic investments in energy efficiency, mass transit and a Clean Energy Corps, we can not only avoid short-term recession, but also put hundreds of thousands of people to work and create a secure economic and environmental future for all Americans."

An ad hoc group of leaders - from Van Jones of Green for All to Gillian Caldwell from 1Sky to Joel Rogers from the Center for State Innovation and Jessy Tolkan from the Energy Action Coalition - have been working to develop more forward-thinking ideas for the stimulus. They could use our support.

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