Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Full Dream - A Revolution of Values

For me, this past week has felt like watching the production of a film or tv show because until now, minority presidents only existed in the realm of imagination. But as reality began to set in about a refreshing new leader in America, I was inspired to read more about the man invoked most often along the path toward the election of our first African American president. I wondered what his spirit would say to President Obama-or more importantly what it would guide we as a people to do to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. So I decided to read more of Dr. King's other speeches, to go beyond the soundbytes. What I discovered was that we do a tremendous disservice to his legacy and ourselves by reducing his dream to a few statements from the end of one of his speeches-as powerful as they are. We need to understand his full dream so that we can work toward actualizing it.

King's activism shifted dramatically during the last years of his life and subsequently suffered vilification from the national media, President Johnson, and even other civil rights leaders for changing direction. The media and much of the population had come to laud his civil rights quest, so what was this vision that caused his descent from grace? Martin Luther King Jr. did not stop with his quest for integration, because he realized that integration into a broken system would not bring equality and justice. In 1967, a year before his tragic death, he delivered a speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" at Riverside Church in New York. In it he said:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies....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 speech is worth reading in its entirety, and although written about American imperialism and militarism at that time, sadly, it remains astonishingly relevant today, as Gaza lies in rubble. Interestingly, this is the same speech from which Obama drew the phrase, "the fierce urgency of now".

A few months later, King delivered the speech “Where do we go from here?” where he asked:

“Who owns the oil?" You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" These are words that must be said…..What I'm saying to you this morning is communism 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, but in a higher synthesis.

Now, with the planet's future at risk and social inequalities increasing at an alarming pace, but also a massive infusion of hope pulsing throughout the world, the time is ripe for a revolution of values. That was his dying dream. I have made an intention to learn more about his full dream and share it with others this year, for that is how we can begin to answer the question-What would Martin Luther King Jr. want us- citizens of the world- to do now?....and then work on making it a reality.

You can read the full text of these speeches here:


Muzammal Hussain said...

Thank you for sharing this lucidly written piece. I look forward to discovering and reflecting more on King's powerful and holistic approach. I wasn't aware of it's scope... it seems to have much more value for today than I realised, and it also resonates strongly with'Fast for the Planet'. Thank you.

Knox (Wasi) said...

Hi Shumaisa,

Totally amazing piece - I was totally drawn in by the writing, but what will stick with me even more is the, for me, quite mind-blowing content. I am amazed at the breadth of Martin Luther King's vision, considering, as you say, what is often focused on when he is mentioned today. Thank you so much for sharing the knowledge and sparking my curiousity - I'm determined to find out more.