Martin Luther King

Joe Romm and Van Jones have an excellent essay on the urgent need for climate action, on this day which celebrates the life of a great American, Martin Luther King.


CREDIT: J. David Ake, AP

King devoted his life to overcoming the injustice of racism. It was crucial, not just for the welfare of African-Americans, but for every American, for every African, for every citizen of the world, because the words etched above, written by King while in an Alabama jail, are as true as words can be. Injustice to any is injustice to all.

We are now facing a terrible injustice: the ruination of the very world we live on. The destruction of climate stability which is so essential to life, to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness. I want more than prosperity for the few. I want liberty and justice for all. It is now undeniable, that depends on facing the truth of climate danger. But too many, and especially too many in the U.S. Congress, deny it.

That’s one of the reasons that if, perhaps when, republican candidates for present change their tune, start saying they “get it” on climate change, tell us that we need to find “business-friendly” solutions, that they must protect the economy (translation: the rich) first and foremost, we must rebuke them even more strongly than we rebuke the staunchest deniers, the Ted Cruz-Donald Trump denier gang. If Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie try to get votes by claiming to be ready to work toward climate solutions, don’t accept their half-hearted, politically expedient excuses for inadequate action, instead, reject their shallow understanding — even if said with good will. As King said,

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

The greatest legacy of King’s life is that his example cannot be killed, it will never die. The greatest tragedy of today is that the threat from climate change is so dire, that on this day of remembrance his legacy calls on us to fight even harder for climate justice.

Because time is running out. Speaking of time itself, King said

“… can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will.”

It’s time for us all to rise up, to fight back against the Cruz/Trump outright denial, against the Bush/Rubio/Christie shallow understanding, against the selfish greed of “let the market solve the problem.” The problem is too big for the market to solve it alone, and far, far too important to allow the greedy any say at all in the solution.

Time is running out, we can no longer endure those who stand in the way, we can no longer tolerate those who insist on half-hearted half-solutions.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

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9 responses to “Martin Luther King

  1. M.L. King, Jr. M.L. King was his dad, who was also a Baptist preacher.

  2. I would also add that in the last few years of his life MLK Jr. had moved beyond racism to human rights in general. Twenty years ago Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen wrote about The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV.

    MLK Jr had moved to questioning social injustice – not just racial injustice. Economics, war, nationalism, the military industrial complex – all of these came under his scrutiny.

    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.”, MLK Jr, Beyond Vietnam, April 4, 1967.

  3. Over time Martin Luther King has been domesticated, made safe for the dominate culture. “I have a dream” has become a platitude and his more dangerous works, earlier and later have been largely ignored. On the other side of the same coin, the depth and the breadth of the evils against which he fought have been minimized and their ongoing effects papered over.

    @oneillsinwisconsin: I quite agree with the thrust of your comment, and thanks for the link. But I will pick a nit: I don’t think MLK “went beyond racism” so much as he began to understand how racism is intertwined with other injustices, both social and economic.

    Tamino, I am so glad that you have taken time to point out the relationship between climate change and justice in its broadest sense. It is so easy to get lost in the science and technicalities and lose sight of the big picture.

    The poorest among us, women and people of color stand to suffer the most. A just solution must not merely keep warming to less than 1.5C while allowing the economy otherwise to continue with business as usual, enriching the rich and impoverishing the poor. It must also empower and uplift the poor and curb the excesses of the rich and powerful.

    I do not go so far as some, who hope for the overthrow of capitalism, but I do hope that the forces of racism and neoliberalusm can be mitigated somewhat.

    • I need to remind myself that living in Australia means I already won the lottery of life. My standard of living is not great, but in a fair world, it would fall a bit so that the great many could improve a bit.

  4. Some of us who are not Americans are well aware of Martin Luther King Jnr, and admirers of him, without being aware of the relevance of today. Thanks for making the connection for us Tamino, in both the date sense and the social justice/climate change sense.

    There is the well known quotation of Marie Antoinette, before the French Revolution, upon being told that the poor masses of people had no bread to eat: “Let them eat cake”. Maybe someone better informed can enlighten me, but I was never sure if she said this in jest or ignorance. But recent events support ignorance.

    In the just past Northern Hemisphere summer, a heat wave in India produced temperatures that could be potentially deadly for unsheltered outside workers. In our local press, an American person of some relevance* was quoted as saying, effectively: “Let them use air conditioners”. With apparent total ignorance of the circumstances of poor day labourers. As if they could afford to buy or use an air conditioner! As if they could afford to even take the day off work and stay in the shade, knowing that without the day’s wage their family would not eat that night. We would not wish the horrors of another French Revolution on anybody, but desperate people WILL end up taking desperate actions. Another reason for a timely and effective climate change response.

    *name forgotten to protect the guilty

    • Marie Antoinette was only 10 at the time of Rousseau’s quotation so it certainly wasn’t her, a similar quote had been attributed to Marie-Therese about a hundred years before.

  5. “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

    I think this is the key point.

    It’s easy to rail at the deniers and the politicians who probably know better but put partisan politics first … but how many people do you know who absolutely accept the overwhelming science and evidence of AGW … but have (maybe) changed a few light bulbs and recycled their garbage … but no more?

    We should be bewildered by their inaction and we should relentlessly take them to task over it … because the reality is, it is those minds we need to change. If we do, the rest will follow,

  6. Well said. I am annoyed every other day by the lack-of-interest of my office mates, who do not deny there is a problem, they just don’t feel that it is _their_ problem, especially not if it involves taking less fewer intercontinental flights or insulating their houses. I do not know how to get through to them.

  7. David B. Benson

    It was also Winnie the Pooh day.