These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men [sic] are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to ad just to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
Every year, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (US), I listen to “Beyond Vietnam,” as well as several other speeches by Dr. King. His clear and powerful voice falls heavily on the jagged tyrannies of capital, war, racism, and exploitation. The recording reaches me as if I sat there in Riverside Church, my back pulled away from the hard wooden pew – too many memories of church. My bones rattle, echoing as chills on my skin, which seizes up as his succinct insights into the nature of power and domination resonate throughout the space. This speech invariably brings me to tears, tears for the unresolved nature of this particular call to action, this particular set of truths.
“Beyond Vietnam,” in my opinion, should be the speech with which Americans, and those around the world, commence their annual memorialization of Dr. King. We would do well to remember that this speech, delivered one year to the day that he was viscously assassinated in Memphis, names the United States Government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Should it not still be “incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war[s]”?
What has changed?
Who are the clear voices for justice in the world today?
What would change if we recalled not only Dr. King’s anti-racism and non-violence, but also his anti-imperial and anti-war stances? His deft ability to connect war, poverty, racism, and globalization? His pro-labor activism?
Remember him today.