Creating a Year of Truth & Transformation
The election of Donald Trump arose from a profound spiritual, cultural, and political crisis in American society. Two halves of the country both feel themselves left out – and have turned to attacking each other, rather than transforming the system that keeps them both under debilitating pressure
The election brought an unexpected outpouring of the “Old American left-outs” – blue-collar white men – into a moment’s triumph. We have already seen a first response from the “New American left-outs” in the spontaneous demonstrations that erupted all over America within 24 hours of the election.
We need to crystallize this outburst into a broadly embracing movement of movements that can pursue acts of nonviolent, loving, empowering creativity. Acts that reach across the present barricades to make sense to both the “Old” and “New” Americas, to nurture the seeds of a new society and to challenge institutions that are domineering and destructive.
At this crucial moment, there is great potential value in the fact that the fiftieth anniversary of the last year in the life of Martin Luther King is fast approaching.
This year will stretch from the 50th anniversary of April 4, 1967 -- when he gave the “Riverside speech” at Riverside Church in New York City -- to the 50th anniversary of April 4, 1968, when he was murdered.
The Shalom Center has already begun the work to shape this year -- the year of "MLK + 50" -- into a Year of Truth and Transformation.
We need your help in this time of emergency, to grow the seeds we have already planted and that have begun to sprout, into the Year of Truth and Transformation.
Dr. King’s Riverside speech, entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” startled and shook the nation by opposing the Vietnam War – a stance that in itself broke new and difficult ground for Dr. King and for Rabbi Heschel, sitting beside him in full agreement.
Dr. King's words went indeed “beyond” Vietnam to name racism, militarism, and materialism as deadly triplets afflicting America, and to call for an American “revolution in values.”
And the entire speech was rooted in Dr. King’s profound commitment to active nonviolence. To seeking what of human need and Godly value could be addressed even in “enemies” and could be turned toward the creation of the Beloved Community.
Dr. King understood strategic nonviolence to require shaping a politics beyond race, to include as allies not only communities of color but also in the “Poor People’s Campaign” and “Resurrection City” the poverty-ridden whites of Appalachia, and to lift up a vision of “Beloved Community.”
That vision could become an important aspect of uniting all the “left-out” Americas, even some of those white blue-collar men who now see themselves as marginalized by the “new America” of Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, feminists, GLBTQ folks -- and who have out of fear, despair, and anger turned to Trump.
Devising a language and a politics that addresses not only their economic squeeze but their cultural and spiritual despair must be part of the task of a Kingly Transformation.
Fifty years after Dr. King spoke, the triplets he named have produced some monstrous offspring:
- Materialism run amok has created new billionaires who can flood elections with their money, while leaving the poor and the middle class to lose any hope of prosperity for themselves and their children, their sense of dignity, and even their expectation of lengthening lives– as the life-spans of some lower-middle-class Americans begin to decline for the first time in American history.
- Materialism and racism have coupled to birth corporate greed so extreme as to be prepared to burn our planet for the sake of profit, and to wound most deeply the communities of color and poverty in the US and the world.
- Militarism has come home and has coupled with racism to birth mass incarceration, police violence, and ever-present gun homicides.
What could all of us be doing to bring Dr. King’s wisdom and the symbolic power of his life and memory to bear on our present crisis?
1) Gather on Dr. King’s official Birthday -- Monday, January 16 -- to begin planning for the MLK + 50 Year. The Inauguration of President Trump will come on Friday, January 20.
Already the Stony Point retreat center 45 miles north of New York City has set aside January 16-19 as a workshop week on “Beyond ‘Beyond Vietnam’: Reclaiming King’s Courage for Movement-Building.”
I will be one of the teacher/guides.
At Stony Point or elsewhere on MLK Birthday, we could set our plans for MLK + 50 — A Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation, with the deliberate intention of shaping the America that our next President must address.
3) We can set as a goal that on or about April 4, 2017, people will gather in our own congregations, our own campuses, our own neighborhoods, even our own homes, to read the Riverside speech, discuss how to apply it today, and plan how to act to heal America from the triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism.
4) Beginning right now, we can spread the word. Ask your local MLK Day of Service Committee to add an April 4 Read-the-Speech observance to their plans. Ask your congregation, your PTA, your college, to announce an April 4 gathering and schedule readers of the Riverside speech, responding commentators, inspiring .
5) During the year that follows, all of us can plan specific times and places to challenge the “triplets” in two ways: Truth and Transformation -- Truth about the past and present, Transformation toward what Dr. King called the “Beloved Community”:
a) For example, choose an Exxon-related place to hold a weekly vigil on the theme “Exxon lied, & people died”; (b) At the same time, organize a neighborhood solar-energy co-op.
Or (a) Join the fight for a decent budget for the public schools in your own city, while (b) also organizing Sunday “freedom schools” to connect the dots between personal troubles and structural disempowerment, and teach how to work for profound social change.
What is the goal of the Year of Truth and Transformation? To create a multiracial, multireligious, multicultural network of activist organizations, co-ops, schools, religious communities, neighborhoods, & grass-roots political parties able to bring people into the streets and the polling booths with five commitments:
Elections for All: Full democratization of election campaigns, free from Hyper-Money and free of restrictions on voting rights;
Human Rights for All: people of all races, ethnic groups, economic positions, genders, sexualities, and migrant status;
Abundance for All: Major steps toward full employment, higher minimum wages, and social support at the bottom; higher taxes at the top;
Health and Education for All;
Mother Earth for All: Swift transition from the destructive fossil-fuel economy to renewable energy.
Each of these can have an aspect of creating our own alternative communities and an aspect of changing public policy.
6) After a year of grass-roots work of Truth and Transformation, we look toward April 4, 2018, as a Day of Action, Atonement, and At-ONE-ment. The day might include vigils or dawn-to-dusk fasting called by religious communities, teach-ins called by students and faculty at colleges, work stoppages called by labor unions or businesses, acts of nonviolent civil disobedience called by various social-activist groups, etc.
In the Riverside speech, Dr. King spoke of “the fierce urgency of Now.” Fifty years later, the urgency is even fiercer.
It takes organizers and an expert on websites and social media and a website filled with resources-for-action and reports-from-the-field, to grow these words I’m writing, these seeds of change, into sturdy oaks of Transformation.
And therefore, it takes money.
We ask you to treat this emergency as truly urgent, and to make a strong contribution to The Shalom Center. Mark the "In honor of" box for "MLK + 50," and we will use it solely to work for A Jubilee Year of Truth and Transformation.
If it's possible for you, we ask you to give at least $180; and for many of us, $360, $720, or $1,000 may be possible.
Please click on the maroon "Contribute" button on the left side of this page.