Monday, January 15, 2007

Moral Leadership from Within

Today, around the country, people honored the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. through speeches, performances, concerts, and other celebrations. What most Americans know about Martin Luther King, Jr. is that he was a Civil Rights leader who fought against racial segregation. He was a Civil Rights leader and he did fight passionately for the equal rights of African-Americans in this country, but there is more. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an advocate, not only for the civil rights of African-Americans, but also for the civil rights of all marginalized groups, particularly those individuals who were marginalized by poverty.

Another important and very relevent component to King's moral leadership was his strong stance against the Vietnam War. King saw the deep connection between poverty, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war. In a speech that he made at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, King explained the connection between his stance against the Vietnam War and his fight for Civil Rights.

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor- both black and white- through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonical destructive suction tube. So I was incereasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. (MLK, April 4, 1967)

I found the excerpt from this speech to be incredibly relevant to the political situation in America today. On the one hand, the president wants billions of dollars to fight a war that the American people do not support. On the other hand, raising the unreasonably low minimum wage, creates controversy because of possible negative economic reprucussions.

So, what do you do? There is a time to put your hands in your head and weep about the situation. There is a deep sense of sadness that comes from witnessing such social injustice. Then, there is a time to act; to take your head out of your hands, stand up, and fight. Social change happens when we realize that within each of us there is a moral leader. Lots of moral leaders add up to a social movement.

I leave you with my all time favorite call to action quote by Margaret Mead. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

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