There are so many reasons to honor the memory and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. My blog will be one of many to praise his courage, his compassion and his gift to move people with his words…a gift that most bloggers would love to have.
I was 16 in 1964 and I was deeply moved by King’s message of non-violent resistance. His cause was just. His words were eloquent and inspirational, moving those who agreed with him, and often those who did not.
I wish that we had such an inspiring voice for the cause of peace, disarmament and nonviolence today, and I truly believe that we need someone whose words can move both hearts and minds to speak to the impending environmental crisis that we, as a global community, are facing.
It is a crisis that we still don’t really see, just as we didn’t really see the stark face of racism in our country until it was broadcast on the national nightly news. Those who suffered the effects of racism were all too aware of it. It was a fact of life that they could not escape. But, it was easy for the majority of Americans to live in denial of the reality of racial injustice.
Dr. King made us see it and, more importantly, he made us care. He spoke to our consciences at the same time that he spoke to our hearts and minds. He appealed to our better angels; to our sense of justice; to our ideals as Americans.
It is true that he was reviled by many who felt that he was asking too much of us – hated and feared by those who felt American society would not survive if it made the changes for which he marched and protested. He was called a communist, an agitator, a trouble-maker and worse by some. Yet, he prevailed and so did his message.
At the heart of that message was love. A special kind of love- love combined with the courage to do what was right. No matter how hard it was. He said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
I want to hear these same words spoken about the environment. It seems that the vast majority of people still do not realize how serious the impending environmental crisis will be, unless we take serious action now. People, for some reason, are not moved by scientific evidence.
So, I think the environmental movement needs a voice of love. A voice that reminds us that it is our duty and our privilege to save what we love. A voice that reminds us of the power of working for change with love in our hearts.
I know that I sound hopelessly idealistic, unrealistic, naive and foolish to many who read this. But those same words were applied to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s.
Dr. King said that he refused to “accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events, which surround him.” I agree with him. We don’t have to watch helplessly as decisions are made that further endanger a sustainable future. We don’t have to mindlessly use water, fuel, and electricity as if they are limitless. We have influence and we must learn to use it.
Dr. King said, “On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.” He was talking about war and I totally agree with him.
But I also believe that many politicians and leaders are cowardly about the environment. They don’t want to ask the public to make changes in the way we live, because they don’t want to lose votes. They don’t want to make necessary environmental regulations for businesses because they might lose contributions. I don’t really blame them for feeling this way. After all, look at what happened to Jimmy Carter when he advised people to wear sweaters instead of turning up their thermostats!
But, if we had a voice like Dr. King, we would not give in to cowardice, politics or vanity. We would listen to our consciences telling us that we owe future generations a sustainable future. And, if a “sustainable future” sounds too abstract, the voice of the environmental leader would help us to realize that our children and grandchildren are part of that future. Will they have access to clean water? Not unless we make sure they do now. If that sounds far-fetched, check out the drought in California.
Maybe the words of Dr. King that most directly apply to the environment are found in this quote: “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” This is so true when it comes to the environment. The way we live; the choices we make; what we use and what we conserve – all of it affects everyone, now and in the future.
Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act our nation – the whole world, actually – faces an enormous challenge. We can act with courage, with love for our families, with love for humanity, with love for the earth that nurtures us. I hope we find the voice that inspires us to do so.