It was Tom Paine who wrote that we as a people and a new nation had the capacity “to begin the world over again.”
Martin Luther King set out to make the world over again and he made a good start before he was shot dead.
King said, “Let us be those creative dissenters who will call upon our beloved nation to a higher destiny, to a new plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.”
That’s what we celebrated when we marched last week from the court house to the school house – our opportunity to begin the world over again.
Of course, we talked about the cold and of the diverse community of warmly bundled marchers with colorful scarves and trophies from past political marches carrying steaming hot coffee cups; then, somewhat self-consciously, we realized the only inconvenience we faced in our march was the wind and weather.
Just think about the march in Selma, Alabama and how it succeeded in winning voting rights legislation in 1965 because, as King described it, a “stubborn sheriff” acted so wrongly in handling the protest that he “stumbled against the future.”
Martin Luther King was a man immersed and saturated in the Christian spirit, shaped by the Bible, focused on what was just, on equality, and he chose as his guide for activism the non-violence of Jesus and of Gandhi.
After Selma, King said that, “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what I have found in nonviolence.”
Anticipating his own death, King said in the Ebenezer Church in Atlanta, that he identified with those who were poor and hungry and, “[i]f it means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice say, ‘Do something for others.’”
The challenge for our nation, in his mind, was human rights; it remains our challenge today.
In this presidential election year, decades later, we have a need and the opportunity to concern ourselves with the collective misfortune of our friends and neighbors.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich declared after his electoral presidential primary victory in South Carolina that the reason for his win was “[t]he American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half century to force us to quit being American and become some kind of other system.”
Gingrich celebrates individual freedom from any government program. Gingrich pretty plainly has said that he will cut out food stamps (makes fun of the President for feeding the hungry) and housing for the poor, unemployment insurance for the jobless, training programs for those who want to join the work force, education grants, and he would curtail or eliminate Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These are among the last 50 years of government legislation and programs that Gingrich disapproves.
Gingrich’s win in South Carolina confirms, what King said years ago, that “[o]verwhelmingly America is still struggling with irresolution and contradictions.”
Gingrich does not discuss much the elite that he does celebrate, the filthy rich who sustain both Romney and Gingrich, two heads of the same beast, who especially resist any public system that dares regulate their favored elite, even though, to borrow from King again, the current regulatory “[l]egislation … is evaded, substantially nullified and unenforced [making the effort in recent days] … a mockery of law.”
The assistant director of the office of economic opportunity, Hyman Bookbinder, back in 1966, said that “the poor can stop being poor if the rich are willing to become even richer at a slower rate.” Now the same can be said about what’s happening to the middle class. But Gingrich and his kind would accelerate their profits – at our expense.
King worked “to begin the world over again.” In the midst of our almost unprecedented domestic crisis and our costly foreign entanglements, this presidential election is an excellent time to resolve to continue King’s work and to climb that “plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humaneness.” Now that’s a worthy challenge for any political campaign!