We Shall Overcome

Last night, I watched the movie, “The Big Short”, which I highly encourage everyone to see. I walked out of the theater feeling incredulous, angry, upset, and sad that no consequences were delivered to those who played a role in stealing from the poor, displacing thousands of hard working people from their homes, or contributing to the loss of thousands of jobs in 2007 and 2008, and that no changes were made to the corrupt financial system at all! Bank fraud created a worldwide economic collapse and the only ones who were forced to pay a price were the innocent people who were stolen from while greedy, morally-wrong people profited. What is even more unbelievable is that this same corruption is allowed to continue today! All night, I kept wondering what can be done to change this system (besides electing Bernie Sanders for the next President as a start). Why do we hear about these horrible truths and injustices, return home and continue about our daily lives, letting everything remain as it is? This isn’t entertainment; these are the forces that are directing the course and quality of our lives. I felt incapable of remaining silent and compliant in what was just brought to my attention. Non-action is what keeps all injustices in place.

I was also trying to learn as much as I could over the weekend about Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, centuries of history and thousands of pages of reading can not be consumed in a couple of hours. I must shamefully admit that I have not studied black history since my high school years, and that I have a lot of re-learning and new learning to do in these upcoming months. What I do know is that the words, actions, and spiritual leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. are just as powerful today as they were 50 and 60 years ago. These principles apply not only to racial injustice, but to economic injustice, class, sex, and gender oppression, the poisoning of our food system, the corruption of our campaign finance system undermining democracy, Big Pharma, and many other wrongs. The injustices that King was against are tremendously similar (and actually intersect) with the injustices portrayed in “The Big Short”.

Few people realize that segregation was started as a means to keep poor whites poor. After the Civil War, there were no segregation laws. It was easy to keep poor whites working for near starvation wages because they could easily be replaced by former black slaves, who would be paid even less. However, in the late 1800’s, leaders of the Populist movement began awakening the poor white masses, as well as the former black slaves to the fact that they were being taken advantage of by the southern political powers, driven by the Bourbon interests. With a divide and conquer strategy, a segregated society was engineered to stop the imminent uprising of the collective poor. Suddenly, it was a crime for blacks and whites to come together and meet as equals. The real issue behind the Populist movement (a powerful few growing richer off the labor of the poor) was diverted away from the minds of whites. And blacks, who previously did have the right to vote, lost this ability through changes in voting laws. It is difficult to comprehend that just over 50 years ago, African Americans were still being actively prevented from their right to vote. And today, this right is still trying to be taken from them!

Not only was Martin Luther King, Jr. protesting racial inequality,  he was very much against  economic inequality, as well. Today, the richest 62 people on earth hold as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion! More and more people are denied basic rights and opportunity. This time of near record levels of poverty, obscene wealth inequality, and exploitation has become the greatest moral issue of our time.

All problems are inherently rooted in separation. When that separation leads to oppression, the way to right it is for large enough masses of individuals to come together, form a collective, and take action. It is silence and division that allows injustice to persist.

In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday and the remembrance of his tremendous legacy and spiritual guidance, I have compiled some of his most well-known words of wisdom. For me, this is only a start to learning more about this man, the history of oppression, and the spiritual principles that will bring the universe back into a more just equilibrium. Today, we have the responsibility of continuing Dr. King’s mission.

“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.”

“An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority….. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong

An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority group that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift out national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue… There is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

“We who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing create, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and give up their unjust posture; but … groups are more immoral than individuals.”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.”

“At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”

“And when I speak of love I’m not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”

“To meet hate with retaliatory hate would do nothing but intensify the
existence of evil in the universe. Hate begets hate; violence begets
violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of
hate with the power of love; we must meet physical force with soul force.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

“Nonviolent resistance … is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. Consequently, the believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future. This faith is another reason why the nonviolent resister can accept suffering without retaliation. For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. It is true that there are devout believers in nonviolence who find it difficult to believe in a personal God. But even these persons believe in the existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness. Whether we call it an unconscious process, an impersonal Brahman, or a Personal Being of matchless power of infinite love, there is a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.”

“I’m concerned about a better World. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood and sisterhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence… And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems.”

“In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: 1) collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive; 2) negotiation; 3) self-purification; and 4) direct action.”

“In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law… That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, … and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”