An Appeal to the President, U.S. Congress, Governors, and State Legislatures to Embrace Dr. King’s Revolution in Values and Commitment to Nonviolence
On January 1, I shall begin a 30-day fast to appeal to the president of the United States, the U.S. Congress, and the governors and legislatures of the 50 states to embrace the revolution in values and commitment to nonviolence that are part of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 1 is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. January 30 is the Memorial Day for both Mahatma Gandhi and Coretta Scott King.
The year 2013 is an historic year, marking the 50th anniversary of events that forever changed America: the assassination of our beloved President John F. Kennedy, the March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his inspiring I Have a Dream speech, and the Birmingham, Alabama campaign in which black schoolchildren were met with high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs, perhaps the best example in our nation’s history of the power of unarmed love to defeat the forces of violence and evil. In addition, Dr. King published his collection of sermons, Strength to Love. In the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, 2013 is a year that cries out for national action.
I make this appeal as someone who has had the immense honor and privilege of having worked for the past 12 months as a member of the civil rights scholars team for a JPMorgan Chase/The King Center collaborative effort to digitize Dr. King’s writings for web display. It has been a period of total immersion in Dr. King’s sermons, speeches, articles, interviews, and press statements and the campaigns he led. I am awed by King’s intellectual brilliance, his profound spiritual depth, and his unfailing devotion to the love ethic of Jesus and, indeed, of all major religions. It is this experience that makes me convinced that the only thing that can prevent this country from spiraling down the path to self-destruction is a great spiritual revolution accompanied by experimentation with nonviolence in every aspect of life and at every level of human existence – from our urban streets and rural roads to our state houses to the halls of Congress, to the international level.
Ten days before Dr. King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was introduced to the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author of the classic study The Prophets, who proclaimed:
Where in America today do we hear a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign that God has not forsaken the United States of America. God has sent him to us. His presence is the hope of America. His mission is sacred, his leadership of supreme importance to every one of us. […] Martin Luther King, Jr., is a voice, a vision and a way. […] The whole future of America will depend on the impact and influence of Dr. King.
The significance of Dr. King’s message is clear: we imperil the nation if we continue to ignore it.
Few would deny that a culture of violence is now part of our national fabric. All of us bear responsibility for allowing this to happen and each of us must become part of the solution.
I suggest to the president, the U.S. Congress, governors, and state legislatures that now is the time to:
- Call for a national day of prayer and reflection on our individual and collective responsibility for the violence in our society and of commitment to become part of the solution
- Appoint a multidisciplinary National Advisory Commission on the Causes of Violence in America that will identify contributing factors and make recommendations for action
- Incorporate into elementary and secondary school curricula education in nonviolent communication, conflict resolution and mediation, and the use of nonviolent methods of social action that end with reconciliation
- Encourage the academic community to study the history and causes of violence, including but not limited to the role of entertainment, easy availability of guns, the impact of wars and militarism, the rearing and societal expectations of boys and men, the influence of sports, the effect of modern technology on the development of supportive human relationships, the impact of mental illness and prescription drugs, the effect of physical illnesses, the relative value of adversarial versus consensus approaches to debate and conflict, and the merits of nonviolence education
- Encourage communities of faith to place increased emphasis on teaching (not simply preaching) the intellectual and spiritual framework necessary to love unconditionally, forgive, and respond to anger and fear without resorting to physical or verbal violence
We profess to be “one nation under God.” It is not unreasonable to believe that our Creator gave us the capacity to love one another, to forgive and to refrain from judging, else why would we be commanded to do so? We also have the capacity to create in this nation what Dr. King called the Beloved Community and, by so doing, stand as a beacon of hope to the entire world.
Let us make 2013 a year of renewal, a year of dedication to building a nation where love abounds, where every citizen is encouraged to realize his or her fullest potential, where we debate vigorously and then seek consensus, where we renounce violence in favor of the nonviolent resolution of conflicts, where we value community and human relationships over material goods and technological devices.
This commitment is perhaps the best way to honor two great American leaders, each felled by the violence of an assassin’s bullet. President John F. Kennedy said famously in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We each need to ask what we can do to make this country less violent. As individuals and as a nation, we can study Dr. King’s ethic of love and nonviolence and attempt to put that into practice in our own lives, in our communities, in our nation and the world.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. concluded his I Have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial with these words:
…when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Let us make it our goal to be “free at last” from the violence that wounds and destroys lives, that diminishes each of us because as John Donne said “no man is an island,” that scars our psyches, and that leaves us with hearts aching and bereft of hope.
Carol Bragg, a resident of Seekonk, Massachusetts, is a former staff person for the American Friends Service Committee and served on the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Contact Carol by e-mail or via phone at 508-336-3594.