I have had the privilege of participating in most of the great humanizing movements of the second half of the last century: peace, labor, civil rights, black power, women’s rights, Asian-American rights and environmental justice. Each was a tremendously transformative experience, expanding my understanding of what it means to be an American and a human being, challenging me to become more visionary and creative in developing strategies to bring about radical social change.
In all of those movements, Americans 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. People long denied and disrespected found their voices in the struggles.
More than forty years ago, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that unless we engage in a great revolution of values and overcome 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.”
That dark time has come. We face a constitutional crisis brought on by the imperial and arrogant acts of a President who has placed himself above the law and is conducting an illegal war, subverting the Constitution and willfully ignoring a planetary crisis that threatens the future of life on earth. As we are manipulated by fear and distrust, despair overcomes decency. We are losing faith in our capacity to create the world anew.
As we celebrate King’s birthday this month and commemorate the fortieth anniversary of his assassination in April, we can look to the guiding light of his vision, at the height of his awareness, before he was taken from us. It is a vision that went beyond the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is a vision of which many are unaware. Many of us have amnesia when asked to recall the fullness of his message.
In the last three years of his life, confronted by the catastrophe of the Vietnam War and urban rebellions, King recognized that “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. We are on the wrong side of a world revolution because we refuse to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment.”
“We have come to value things more than people,” he said. “Our technological development has outrun our spiritual development. We have lost our sense of community, of interconnection and participation.”
In order to get on the right side of that revolution, King said that as a nation America must undergo a radical revolution of values against the giant triad of racism, materialism and militarism.
“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”