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#679 – Dick Bernard: Thoughts on Martin Luther King’s “Why We Can’t Wait”, on Martin Luther King Day 2012

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Yesterday at Mass at Basilica of St. Mary visiting Priest, Fr. Pat Griffin, in his homily, included a snippet of Martin Luther King’s writing: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly….”

I wrote enough snippets of the quote so that I could source it, and at home went to the search engine and, sure enough, there the exact quote was in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written April 16, 1963.

That letter was primarily to religious leaders, Bishops and like rank, who were not, shall we say, being very supportive of efforts to end injustice against the Negroes, one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Such change disrupted their notion of temporal influence.

Preceding Father Pat’s pull quote was this phrase by King: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states….” and so on.

My takeaway from his message is that we’re all in this together, not gangs of individuals protecting our narrow interests, however righteous those interests seem to be.

I pulled my quote, above, from my copy of Martin Luther King’s “Why We Can’t Wait”, published early in 1964, primarily about the watershed Civil Rights year of 1963.* At the time, Dr. King was 34 years old.

The book remains in print, and I recommend it as required reading for anyone who wants to make a difference.

The book outlines how difficult it was, even then, to make a difference, and it emphasizes (at least so I saw) many things that most people don’t take time to acknowledge.

Dr. King’s hero and model, apparently, was someone most of us have never heard of: Fred Shuttlesworth.

And the Civil Rights Movement had difficulty convincing the Middle and Upper Class Negroes of the value of its mission to bring justice to those with less power and influence. Negroes who had by some chance or another risen above their “place” (say, owning a business) were reluctant to jeopardize their own perceived success to an uncertain cause. They were torn and too often they went with the status quo.

The most important chapter for me was the last one in the book, “The Days to Come”, in which Dr. King talked about the realities of the political process, including his personal acquaintance with three Presidents (Lyndon Johnson had just become President of the United States when the book was published. The others were Eisenhower and Kennedy.)

MLK was a rarity among us: not only was he a gifted and charismatic leader; but he recognized the reality leaders, including Presidents of the United States, face.

Most of King’s 1963 centered on Sheriff Bull Connors Birmingham AL. And at page 132 of Why We Can’t Wait he says this, recounting a comment by President Kennedy (then 46 years old) followed by his own commentary:

“Our Judgment of Bull Connor should not be too harsh,” he commented. “After all, in his way, he has done a good deal for civil rights legislation this year.”

King’s next sentence bears our attention: “It was the people who moved their leaders, not the leaders who moved the people,” King says.

Today, on the celebration of Martin Luther Kings birthday, and the public inauguration of President Obama, his words take on special meaning to all of us who care.

The ball is in OUR court.

* POSTNOTE:
My copy of Why We Can’t Wait came as a surprise gift from my friend, Lydia Howell, in Dec. 2006. It was a well-used copy, which I have even more well-used over the last six years.

Lydia’s note says “Now, more than ever, I find the life, work and words of Dr. King one of my deepest inspirations. I hope you…find [Why We Can’t Wait] useful….”

I surely have, Lydia.

I decided to first read the book one chapter each day, sitting in a pew at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

My book notes that I read the chapter “Letter From Birmingham Jail” on April 14, 2007, at 2 p.m., during a wedding. At the quotation cited by Father Griffin on Sunday, I have handwritten in the margin, “Bridal Procession”….

I have no idea who got married that day, or how they’re doing, but I can tell you this juxtaposition of thoughtfulness and words inspire continuing action.

#503 – Dick Bernard: Beginning a week with MLK; Ending a week with OWS

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Thursday night I was part of a near overflow crowd as Prof. David Schultz of Hamline University spoke on the topic “Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and the Twilight of American Capitalism“. Those who are old hands at the Thursday night sessions of the program of Citizens for Global Solutions could remember only one other program rivalling this one as a draw. There were about 60 persons in attendance.

The outline of the presentation is accessible here, with permission of the speaker: David Schultz occupy wall street and the twilight of american capitalism-1

I felt it was a very worthwhile evening. Here’s a photo (click to enlarge):

David Schultz (at left) and Citizens for Global Solutions President Joe Schwartzberg, January 19, 2012

Friday morning, enroute to another meeting on cold and snowy I-94 in St Paul, I noted a bunch of folks near a very simple and clear banner on a walkway over the Freeway:
Get Corporate Money
out of Politics
MovetoAmend.org

It was a clear message, no threat to traffic.
Of course this day, January 21, is the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in the matter of Citizens United versus Federal Elections Commission. MovetoAmend.org has all the details….

Also during this week organizers delivered over 1,000,000 signatures on petitions to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. It was a much higher turnout than anticipated. It spoke volumes – or, shall I say, boxes – all by itself.

And Wikipedia, Google and many other websites joined an on-line demonstration to call attention to SOPA and PIPA, two pieces of legislation that would normally fly under the radar. (See my Jan. 18 blogpost on the topic here.)

This was quite a week, beginning with Fr. Greg Miller reading from Martin Luther King’s “Where do we go from here?” speech to the 10th annual convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in August, 1967, ten months before he was assassinated. Access to the entire speech is here. It is very well worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a sample: “…[C]ommunism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social…and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism….”

Of course, MLK was often accused of being communist, but the epithet just didn’t stick, but it, and its supposed synonyms, are still trotted out as false indictments. That’s why I have the quote here.

Driving home from Prof. Schultz’s talk I kept thinking of a gift received from Twin Cities activist Lydia Howell in December, 2006. It was a used copy of Martin Luther King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait”, about the watershed civil rights year of 1963, published shortly after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

King covered the waterfront in this small book, which is still readily available (see here, and many other sources).

OWS has been immensely successful to this point, and is now in a period of reflection about next steps.

Dr. King remains with us in words, and in spirit.

In Why We Can’t Wait he speaks profoundly of “The Days to Come” in the final chapter. Here’s a teaser quote from President Kennedy to Dr. King in 1963: “Our judgment of Bull Connor should not be too harsh, he commented…. ”

You’ll have to read the book to get the context.

Please do.

My own recommendations to the OWS and similar movements:
1) OWS and others need to change the conversation about both “them”, and “us”. For instance, what do the greedy winners have to lose by winning? A great deal, actually, but you need to think about it – to turn the conventional interpretation upside down and look at the issue from the other side. And the same kind of questions can and should be raised about your own movements….
2) The movements could benefit by a deep discussion of the meaning of the word POWER. Here’s a place to start….
3) Gandhi said “we must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Gandhi was one of King’s heroes. Both are gone. “WE MUST…” Theirs were very big shoes, but WE MUST…. As Margaret Mead said, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed that is the only thing that ever has.” I reference both of them here – two at-home examples of people who made a difference.

Lee Dechert, whose passion is the dangers posed by man-induced climate change, commented about 'occupy the earth' in the question and answer session January 19.

#501 – Dick Bernard: Martin Luther King, “Where do we go from here?”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Sunday morning at Basilica of St. Mary, Fr. Greg Miller chose to close his homily with an extended quote from Martin Luther King’s talk to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference 16 August 1967. Entitled “Where do we go from here?”, the text of the speech is here.

It is worth the time to read in its entirety.

As always, King’s words speak powerfully for themselves. They are old news, but they are as recent as today. Change comes slowly and is never easy.

Fr. Greg, ordained in 1973, he said, traced his ‘roots’ as a Catholic Priest to mentor Priests who were activist civil and human rights leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. This is how future comes from past. Had Fr. Greg not called attention to King’s talk, I likely would never have read it.

How can each of us apply Dr. Kings words today, 45 years later? He is gone. We are his legacy, the ones who need to do the heavy lifting. Read his words and decide where you fit in.

Less than a year after his talk, April 4, 1968, before he had reached age 40, Martin Luther King was dead at the hands of an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee.

But his dream lives on through all of us.

To help catch the dream – perhaps for the first time – I highly recommend a new film, just out on DVD and on demand. The film is I AM, the Documentary. You can read about it here. We saw it last spring, and it gives hope.