“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
Thank you Kirwan Inst. and kudos to Jamaal Bell. I teach middle school civics and we’re studying Dr. King’s letter and how it relates to the civil rights movement as it’s covered in our textbook and the 14th Amendment. I think that both having a variety of narrators rather than a single actor portraying King or merely reading the letter, combine with the still images and historic footage you’ve woven together made this a more meaningful and compelling piece- especially for rural, mostly white Iowa eighth graders in 2018, who otherwise may not have understood or appreciated the letter as well.
When I re-read or re-teach this letter, I am reminded of Dr. King’s intelligence, patience, compassion, and insight. This letter has inspired me to write poems and blog posts and paint paintings.
This year, however, just as Dr. King wrote it in response to well intentioned white clergy fifty-five years ago, I wish I could introduce it to all the well-meaning white Christians, especially moderates and conservatives.
King, speaking to clergymen after all, even though it’s an “open” letter that the entire world was privy to in newspapers and magazines, alluded to several saints, philosophers and scriptures. He referrers to the teachings and examples of Jesus frequently in the letter.
These days, my family, friends and neighbors don’t understand the protests over police brutality in the last 2-3 years in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, etc. They saw white supremacists demonstrating in Charlotteville, VA and somehow they blamed former President Obama for being racially divisive during his time in office.
President Trump started his campaign off by describing Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists and started his administration off by calling for a ban on travel and immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.
Just this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions let slip during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington that he thinks that sheriffs’ have an”Anglo–American heritage.”
My own Congressman, Steve King (R) of Iowa has opposed immigration because he doesn’t think we can restore our “superior culture” with “other people’s babies.” King has met with and admires Tomio Okamura, the leader of a neo-fascist white supremacist party in the Czech Republic.
As much as people would like to think that we’re more enlightened than Americans were in 1963 or have somehow achieved racial harmony, but obviously we haven’t. I fear that too many of us ARE the “white moderates” that Doctor King criticized in this letter.
We have become complacent or numb to injustice and inequalities. We’re reluctant to recognize let alone repent of our own latent racism. Many of us our even either in denial about or oblivious to institutional forms of racism and the racism of many of our leaders, either because recognizing it would mean having to do something about it or worse, recognizing it would reflect poorly on ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we could possibly be wrong.
Then there’s women’s inequality. Why do we hesitate to equate sexism with racism? Are they not the same? I think that when King talks about Austrian philosopher Martin Buber’s discussion about “I and Thou” rather than “I-It,” we could apply that to women as well as to people of color. Don’t we too often treat women as things rather than people?
And of course today discussion of LGBT rights is much more prominent than in the 1960’s. Even if you have difficulties getting past religious qualms about non-traditional (“non-binary”) sexuality, its impossible to get around that the Constitution’s requirements of equal protection and due process for all, regardless of race, creed, gender, and political persuasion. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter who it’s against or what your motivation.
This year, what made an impression on me was King’s discussion about just and unjust laws. Too many politicians have been using the argument about following the “rule of law” to whip up anger and indignation against DACA “Dreamer”immigrants, who’s parents brought them to this country when they were young children and who essentially have never known any country (home) than this one, but now face deportation decades later.
Doctor King handles head-on the fact that morality and justice are more important than the letter-of-the law, especially when state or local laws are abused by those in power to discriminate, segregate, or violate the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution. Had he been a judge or a lawyer rather than a pastor and organizer, he probably would’ve quoted the Fourteenth Amendment directly.
I wish my loved ones would realize that when laws are inadequate, unclear, or unfair, it is our responsibility to revise, reform, or replace them. And that challenging them, protesting, sometimes even deliberately breaking them are all part of our constant democratic process.
I feel like ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ is a masterpiece of writing. Personally, I consider it part of the broader American “unwritten-constitution,” along side things like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Washington’s farewell address or Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and along side his own ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which he made just four or five months after he wrote this.
If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to find a copy. If you have about an hour that you’d otherwise end up using on Netflix or YouTube anyway, watch the video linked to at the top of this blog post. Consider it kind of an audio version of this letter. My prayer is that it will impact you half as much as it has me.
I realize that MLK Day was a couple of weeks ago but this blog post has kind of been nagging at me ever since then.
Everyone knows him from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from 1963 and as an important civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. But how many of us have ever took the time to really read, study or digest that speech?
History buffs and civil rights advocates may know more about him. They may know that he’s also remembered for his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ for leading protests there and a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to draw attention to state discrimination in voting rights.
They may credit him with helping to put pressure on President Johnson and Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They know that after fighting so long against legal segregation and political equality in the South, he had begun campaigning for economic justice nationwide.
But we forget that he was a pastor, a theologian, an intellectual, a husband and father, a reader, thinker and writer. “Rev. Dr.” means that he was ordained and had a PhD. He wasn’t just a gifted speaker, activist and organizer. He was a ridiculously prolific writer.
He’s one of my personal favorite writers.
As a History/Social Studies teacher, I think his most fascinating piece, in therms of political science, sociology and philosophy has to be his 1967 speech ‘Beyond Vietnam.’
Two of my favorite books aren’t political speeches or editorials though, they’re sermons, devotions and essays on spirituality, love, and King’s trademark non-violence. Strength to Love from 1963 and The Measure of a Man , from 1968.
Without having open copies by my side, or a tab open to search for quoted from MLK, I want to share some principles I’ve gleaned from Doctor King’s writings that I try to apply as life lessons. Full disclosure; I’m a white male that grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Phoenix in the 70’s (‘Leave it to Beaver,’ only not in the 50’s).
Maybe that’s the point though- while as a progressive it ticks me off to see right-wing extremists and conservative Republican pundits and politicians try to co-opt Dr. King’s quotes or use his image to try to evoke pretend inclusion or phony compassion- much of King’s teaching really does transcend race, gender, and era.
King made no secret that he was influenced by Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I bet he was also influenced a lot by Mahalia Jackson and Cloretta Scott-King too. What positive role models? We could all use some role models like those today.
When I read King, I see much of his ideas and beliefs echoed in secular authors like Viktor Frankl and Christian authors like C.S. Lewis. white And in white evangelicals like Tony Campolo and black activists like John Lewis and Cornell West. Most of all, I hear echoes of Saint Paul and of Jesus.
If I could pass anything on to my children or my students, I wish I could plant these lessons in their hearts and minds, but I know they have to read Kings books for themselves, listen to his speeches for themselves, study history, read scriptures and encounter God all for themselves. I can’t do it for them. Be that as it may, here are some things I learned from Dr. King.
Off the top of my head, & from the well of my heart-
Lessons I’ve learned from Doctor King
- Meet physical force with soul force
- Peace isn’t just an end, it’s a means to many ends
- Forgiveness is hard, but it shouldn’t just be a habit, but a way of life
- Be a thermostat, not just a thermometer
- Better to be tough minded and soft hearted than hard-hearted and soft-minded!
- Never give up hope, seek to become a prisoner of hope
- Undeserved suffering is redemptive
- ALL of our destinies are inextricably tied together
- Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE
- Never stop; if you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk crawl- but keep moving forward.
- Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that
- Just a sneeze can change history
- Just because something is a law doesn’t make it just and unjust laws sometimes may even need to be broken to draw attention to the fact that they ought to be changed
- Change comes from faith, prayer, love, community, and sacrifice
- Words are powerful
- It’s one thing to claim to believe something, it’s another to live out the true meaning of those beliefs
- Love others, even your enemies
“Emotion is your enemy… Losing control of your emotions, at work as much as anywhere, is a losing proposition. As a leader, it’s important that you manage your emotions instead of letting them manage you.” ~John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach
“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.” ~Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States
Gotta tell ya, some politicians irk me. I mean make me so angry I just want to shout expletives. But my wife reminds me that I’m a Civics teacher, and a Sunday School teacher, and a parent.
Part of me is so full of angst when I see the groundwork for authoritarianism being laid that I feel like I HAVE to say something. After all, as a History Major in college I had British parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s words pounded into me- “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
But I think about the poor “spaz” on the elementary playground. So full of frustration that they must lash out at their bullies, but all they manage to do is flail around spasmodically- only giving the bullies and their schoolmates more material to ridicule, instead of injuring their tormentors.
Wouldn’t you rather get in one good knockout punch, thus delivering a powerful lesson in who not to mess with?
So, some advice, and believe me, this is a case of “physician heal thyself,” but nevertheless, advice on when and how to exercise one’s First Amendment rights rather than to abuse them.
- Be articulate
- Be specific
- Avoid being coarse or profane
- Attack policies, positions and actions- NOT persons, personalities, or appearances
- Back up you assertions with facts (even though your opponents may not use them, or may believe in “alternative” facts).
- Allow trolls to troll (and make themselves look ignorant and angry), or delete their comments, but don’t engage them.
- Above all, speak out of your passion FOR something, based on principles, rather than get carried away with your anger against someone or something.
Granted, “do as I say, not as I do” may indeed apply here plenty of times. But this is still advice that I recognize that I myself need to follow.
For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” ~Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States.
Don’t give up any of them. Don’t deny them to ANYONE, no matter how different they are from you, no matter how differently they exercise each right or how much you disagree with them. These are fundamental human rights. God-given rights. These are the principles on which America was founded.
Dear Jason & Steve,
I am very concerned about recently proposed cuts to our community colleges, state universities, correctional facilities, and human services.
Iowa legislators have failed to abide by our 1995 allowable growth law for several years in a row now.
But I know that you will remember, that Iowa children are our most vital investment, not corporations or out of state interests.
Please do everything you can to oppose the bills which came out of appropriations committees this week. Prove to your constituents that you are willing to put Iowa’s children first.
Thank you for your consideration.
Feel free to copy & paste, although phone calls work even better.
Plenty has been said about how Donald Trump’s election wasn’t legitimate. Congressman John Lewis said that his presidency would be illegitimate. I forget which news magazine, but one of them posted a story online about how Trump’s biggest fear is having his legitimacy questioned.
Some would cite how he lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million. Some argue that he’s unqualified and unprepared. Of course, there’s the fact that Russia meddled in the election process. What’s worse, it would seem that FBI Director William Comey helped. What would be treasonous is if Trump himself knew about it or had a part in it- of course, we do have him on video inviting Russia to hack us.
Not to mention the archaic and many of us feel unnecessary vestige of the slave era, the electoral college.
It ought to be self-evident that any or all of these facts render Trump illegitimate, but I would like to point out that what really makes him illegitimate is his lack of principles- or more to the point, the fact that his behavior and policies are contrary to America’s founding principles.
In his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the United States to finally stand up and live out “the true meaning of its creed,” that “all men are created equal.” Lets look at some of our principles.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson expounds on three core democratic principles.
- All men are created EQUAL- Trump antagonizes Latinos, dehumanizes African Americans, subjugates women, and ridicules people with special needs.
- And endowed by their creator with certain inalienable RIGHTS- From First Amendment rights to a free press and freedom of assembly, to women’s rights, to LGBT rights. About the only rights that Trump & Co. supports are gun rights.
- (SOCIAL CONTRACT) To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.- This is a man who routinely breaks contracts and promises. If he or his cabinet appointees abandon or abolish entire departments and agencies of the Federal government, or slash Social Security, Medicare or veterans’ benefits as alleged, that’s not draining the swamp or bucking the establishment, that’s breaking the social contract. By refusing to make public his taxes or documents connected to business conflicts of interest, by continuing to benefit from foreign business investments, by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he has broken the social contract and in some cases already violated the Constitution before ever taking office.
Not only does he have severe issues with these three most fundamental principles of our republic, but also with the principles that Madison and Hamilton wove into the Preamble to our Constitution.
- We the people- I believe that Trump cares about himself; he clinically suffers from narcissistic personality disorder at worst, an immature sociopath at best.
- In order to form a more perfect Union- Trump may say he want’s us to come together and to win again or make America great again- but he was divisive even of his own party while he was running in the primaries. His base supporters wave confederate flags. Never since the Civil War have we been so polarized. This is the furthest thing from unity.
- Establish Justice- We have been failing poor people and minorities, especially African Americans through our criminal justice system. Not all police are racist and it’s not anti-police to recognize that we have systemic inequality in the grand jury processes and in our penal system. Does anyone believe that appointing an Attorney General who jokes about the Klu Klux Klan being too socially liberal will address these injustices?
- Domestic Tranquility- He has encouraged violent treatment of dissenters at his rallies, incited and failed to condemn racism and violence perpetrated by his supporters and he plans to continue holding rallies even though the election is over. This is the opposite of seeking harmony or reconciliation.
- Common Defense- He joked about carpet bombing Middle Eastern countries during the campaign and has alienated our allies, saying that NATO is obsolete and antagonized China and North Korea. He has been reckless in matters of state and ignored Defense and State Department protocols for reaching out to foreign leaders. He has refused to hear intelligence briefings and instead has alienated our intelligence agencies. He’s slandered and devalued various heroic veterans. Worst of all, he admires tyrants and has storied interests with Russia and Vladmir Putin. Forget defense, he in the months since he has been elected has already been putting us all in jeopardy.
- General Welfare- His cabinet appointees speak volumes. Mostly male, all white, mostly fellow billionaires. This fits on an internet meme:
- An Attorney General who opposes restoration of the Voting Rights Act
- A Secretary of Health & Human Services who opposed Medicare
- A Secretary of the Treasury who opposes Dodd-Frank
- A Secretary of Education who opposed Public Education
- A Secretary of Housing & Urban Development who opposes the Fair Housing Act
- Plans to privatize and cut Social Security & Medicare, repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions without insurance, eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts & privatize public television and public radio, tax plans that will benefit the wealthiest 2% even more than those of those of George W. Bush.
- Essentially, not just undoing the policies and programs of President Obama, but unraveling 90 years scientific, legal, social, economic and political progress.
- Promote the blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity- He’s curtailed or circumvented rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly and petition. Besides Russian melding, egregious attempts at voter suppression took place in various states in an effort to disenfranchise Latino, Black and poor voters, voter I.D. laws and plans a national registry for Muslim Americans all constitute horrendous attacks on the 1st, 14th and 15th Amendments.
This is not a man of the people. This is not a representative of our shared interests or of our common principles. This man has shown every indication that he intends to rule as an authoritarian. His hyper-nationalism, racism, militarism, and corporatism are a formula for fascism and tyranny.
Our best hope may actually be that he establishes a “kakistocracy,” a government of those most stupid, ignorant, least qualified and unprincipled citizens in power. And that our midterm elections replace the Republican majorities in Congress who enable him.
Reading his tantrums on Twitter leads you to believe that this may be the case. It may not be that he disagrees with or misinterprets the Constitution. It may just be that he doesn’t understand it or is wholly ignorant of it.
How can any president be considered legitimate, who diametrically opposes or violates virtually every one of our most basic principles?
These are the reasons that I believe the man about to take the oath of office is not a legitimate president.
God have mercy on me if I’m wrong. I do not want to end up in prison somewhere for my disloyalty to the state. I love my country, but what I love most about America are the principles of freedom and democracy which I’ve listed above. My family & I faced plenty of ridicule & resentment during the Bush administration because of my opinions.
But if I’m correct in my evaluation of the new president and his administration. Then God help us all. Pray for the president elect, but pray for our entire nation.
Don’t ever forget, THESE are Donald Trump’s principles…
That this is SO HUGE the day after the inauguration, the fact that it’s not just in DC and NYC but in HUNDREDS of cities nation wide AND WORLD WIDE- is a phenomenal piece of history. This isn’t just about abortion or birth control or women’s health. This is more than just equal pay for equal work. Much of this is about opposing belittling and objectifying women. This is more than just reaction to the “pussy grabbing” recording or the “golden shower” allegations or sexual harassment charges- in fact, with crowds this large and so diverse in SO MANY cities- this is about far more than just women and women’s issues.
This many people isn’t an anomaly. Even if the vast majority of these people don’t become consistently active and committed, there are just too too many of them that will, for this not to become a movement.
Trump claimed his election was part of a “movement.” Which one? The “birther” movement? The Tea Party? The “Alt-Right?”
The establishment should be scared. Racists should be scared. Privileged straight white males who responded to Trumps pandering to fear and anger, may now actually have something to fear.
Is this the Occupy movement, begun in the 2000’s? Is this Obama’s movement, started in 2008? Is it Bernie Sander’s movement, begun in 2016? Is this a Women’s movement? None of that is quite clear.
What IS clear is that unlike the Tea Party movement, this truly is grass-roots, bottom-up, rather than something bankrolled by billionaires, top-down.
Nothing like this has been seen before in the United States, even at the heights of the anti-Vietnam war and pro civil rights movements. Hundreds of thousands in hundreds of cities simultaneously, peacefully. This is historic.
Millions of young people, yes especially young women and yes especially young women of color, but MILLIONS of young people are initiating their political awareness and political involvement today. This is the death knell of the predominance of rich white conservative males in America. This will mark a sea-change.
Historians take note. Journalists get a clue. Demagogues with aspirations of tyranny take warning.