My turn: Live the dream King died for

War, greed and poverty were also important issues for the reverend

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2007

This Monday we once again commemorate the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Normally, the commemoration focuses on King's "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963.

While the words of this speech, words burned into the memory of virtually every American, are transcendent, they do not tell us the full story of the man and his legacy.

To celebrate that, we need to remember the work King carried on in the last four and a half years of his life, work focused not only on the struggle for civil rights, a struggle that continues to this day, but on many other issues, such as:

• The pointless reliance by our country's leaders on brute force to solve international disputes.

• The excessive hold that greed has on our society.

• And the struggle of the world's poor and dispossessed for a decent life.

On April 4, 1967, one year to the day before his assassination, King gave a major and now largely forgotten speech.

In this speech, titled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence," King became the first mainstream civil rights leader to oppose the U.S. war against Vietnam.

King spoke of the misplaced priorities of the U.S. government and our country's economic leadership:

"...When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered..."

King predicted the moral crisis that the worship of armed intervention would lead us to:

"...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death..."

And King called for a positive alternative to the limited and heartless world view of our nation's leaders, an alternative that people in places like Venezuela, Bolivia and people in activist communities here and around the world are now bringing to life:

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. ... A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. ... It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: 'This is not just.' It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: 'This is not just.' The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: 'This way of settling differences is not just.'

This speech, perhaps the most courageous of King's life, was denounced by many of the leading figures of both major parties and many of those who had claimed to support the civil rights struggle. King was told, essentially, to know his place, to speak only about the issues the white political leadership would tolerate him speaking about, and then only on their terms.

On Monday, let us remember the life and work of King. Let us remember and celebrate ALL that King so bravely and peacefully fought for.

Let us remember the alliance of working class people of all races that Dr. King was building at the time of his death.

Let us remember the Poor People's March that King's followers brought to Washington, D.C., after his death and let us mourn the fact that far too many of us turned away from the struggle for a better world and reduced ourselves to materialism, selfishness and short-term self-interest.

And let us take up the work again, joining with people everywhere who seek an end to war, repression, hatred and greed, and build a world of justice, hope, freedom and equality for all. It will take years, perhaps decades, but it must be done.

King died for "the dream." It's up to us to live it.

• Ken Burch is a Juneau resident.

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