Monday, January 17, 2005

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

"We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God's universe is made; this is the way it is structured." - Martin Luther King, "Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution"

Of all the great things Dr. King had to say to us, this is perhaps the most salient: all life is interconnected. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. This is a lesson Dr. King inscribed in our nation with his own life, and the lives of many, many others gave their lives in the pursuit of justice through nonviolence.

It is a lesson that our country has yet to learn.

In every photograph of a hooded Iraqi, shrouded in fear, naked and helpless; in every interest payment a poor country makes to a bank instead of building a school or feeding its starving people; and in every think-tank espousing the idea that the "tide that lifts all boats" is the government subsidization of the wealthy at the expense of programs to feed the poor and heal the sick are our nation's own follies writ large upon the tablets of history.

Less than a year before he died, Dr. King delivered a sermon entitled "Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool". In it, Dr. King pointed out to America its own foolish ways:

"America today, my friends, is also rich in goods. (My Lord) We have our barns, and every day our rich nation is building new and larger and greater barns. You know, we spend millions of dollars a day to store surplus food. But I want to say to America, "I know where you can store that food free of charge: (Yes) in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God's children in Asia and Africa and South America and in our own nation who go to bed hungry tonight." (Yes)

There are a lot of fools around. (Lord help him) Because they fail to realize their dependence on others."

How, then, would Dr. King judge our country today?

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the United States has the highest rates of poverty among children, compared to sixteen other rich, industrialized countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development:

"The rate and number of children in America living in poverty increased in 2003, to 17.6 percent and 12.9 million children, up from 16.7 percent and 12.1 million in 2002. What's more, children represented 35.9 percent of all the people in poverty - compared with 25.4 percent of the total population."

To quote Dr. King, "a nation which spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

On the international front, over 1300 US soldiers have been killed in the war in Iraq. Estimates on Iraqi dead total at least 15,000. There have been reports of "ghost" detainee programs, and a proposal to jail some detainees for life. The Bush administration is downplaying expectations for a successful election in Iraq, and the threat of civil war still looms large as Sunni nonparticipation in the newly formed Iraqi government remains an unaddressed issue. And, according to a Channel 4 UK/Guardian documentary project, after all of the devastation wrought on Fallujah by US troops, it is unclear whether there was a true military victory in this city.

In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech, Dr. King issued a calling to all concerned people everywhere in the face of injustice:

"This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions.  We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy", for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers."

Let us use this King Holiday to remember this great calling Dr. King issued to us shortly before his death, and continue to speak out against a government who policies and decisions injure the weak and the voiceless.  Let us continue to tell our fellow countrymen and our elected officials that torture - or redefining torture to allow for unacceptable human suffering - is wrong, and harms our national self-interest.

As Dr. King said, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere".


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