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Enact the Dream of ’68

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On December 8, 2014 President Obama attempted to quell protests across the nation after 2 separate grand juries refused to indict two white police officers involved in separate killings of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown of Missouri and Eric Garner of New York. President Obama asserts, “typically progress is in steps, it’s in increments.”  “… recognize that it’s going to take some time…..”.

Martin Luther King Jr. tersely described the “myth of time” rhetoric used by politicians in their attempts to placate the oppressed poor by declaring, “…the forces of ill will in our nation, …have used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill.’ ‘…time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation.”

Within Martin Luther King’s most provoking and dangerous speech delivered on March 31, 1968 – Remaining Awake Through A Revolution – he challenges America to stop the injustices of racism, the systematic oppression of the poor, and warfare as well as the resources squandered on the “study of war”. He proposed that a “Poor People’s Campaign” would occupy Washington DC in 1968 and demand through mass non-violent civil disobedience and a “soul force” tangible solutions to right the wrongs perpetrated against the poor, especially the colored poor, and people oppressed and killed by U.S. armed forces around the world. Just 5 days later, on April 4, 1968 Dr. King was assassinated by the powerful forces he opposed and the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 was snuffed out.

Nearly 50 years since, the economic injustice and systematic oppression of the nation’s poor being orchestrated and perpetuated by the nation’s wealthy elite as well as the racist factions of America is still the root of the nation’s turmoil between the poorest communities, especially of color, and police forces. New body cameras and police trainings touted about by politicians and the nation’s police commissioners as the solution will not resolve the turmoil and violence. Such band-aid fixes cannot heal such an infected open wound.

Through 1967 and 1968 Dr. King deliberately focused his force of conscience at the military industrial complex (MIC) and the study of war because he believed it was the key socioeconomic limiting factor to achieving opportunity and justice for all Americans as well as solving all of society’s problems. Nearly 50 years since Dr. King’s calls for action, the U.S. MIC has committed our nation and our poorest young men to undeclared wars in the Middle-east over dwindling petroleum reserves for more than 14 years with no end in sight. The current U.S. war preparations budget is nearly $600 billion per year. To add, the Obama administration announced on November 2014 the additional expenditure of $350 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade America’s nuclear arsenal.

In his “Remaining Awake” speech Dr. King states, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

If American citizens do not divert the trillions of dollars and countless natural resources squandered on perpetuating the military industrial complex to create a civil society based on cooperation – not predation – and a steady state economic system, then the social and economic fabric of this nation will soon tear into a million pieces. Growing populations consuming finite resources unsustainably will lead to depletion, opportunity for advancement will become non existent, and those seeking to move beyond mere existence will become ever more desperate. This same basic premise applies to all nations especially the economic superpowers like China, India, GB, Russia, Japan, and Europe.

If this “great collapse” comes to fruition it will permeate the loftiest ivory towers of the super wealthy. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s children and grandchildren will not escape its effects. No human being will be immune when the multiple crises looming settles upon modern societies like an incurable plague with no way back or forward. The result, lurching in the shadows, is all nations especially the world’s super powers making war upon each other to attain and defend scant resources leading up to and into the “collapse” and it will destroy us all.

Perhaps if Dr. King had known in 1968 what we now know about the state of the natural world, he may have concluded the greatest challenge and grandest opportunity to ever face humanity is the ability to create a civilization that attains a point of benign impact or a steady state on the earth’s ecosystems and biosphere.  We can and must use those resources currently wasted on war, the preparation for war, and a self centered materialistic society to create a civilization that heals our host – the biosphere – instead of killing it as well as all species within.

Will we mark the greatest visionaries of our time as footnotes in our history books and with meaningless ceremony or will we as a nation finally enact their dreams of achieving the pinnacle of human consciousness and conscience?

In Dr. King’s “Remaining Awake” speech he confronts the nation’s leaders, even those within his own movement, who openly opposed his Poor People’s Campaign plans for Washington DC by declaring, “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Shannon Wilson is the director of Eco Advocates NW and has been a grassroots organizer in Eugene, Oregon for more than 22 years.  

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