Making Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream a reality

Posted Jan. 16, 2009, at 7:56 p.m.

This year many are hopeful about a new direction for our country with the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The inauguration will come just a day after we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., who inspired the Civil Rights Movement that made the election of an African-American possible 43 years after the passage of the civil rights act. Part of Martin Luther King’s dream was realized when the majority of American voters chose their president.

As we prepare to celebrate the inauguration of our first African-American president, we also look forward to building a movement to help President Obama to realize more of Martin Luther King’s vision. In 2006, Sen. Obama spoke of this vision at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial groundbreaking ceremony, saying of King that, “he pointed the way for us — a land no longer torn asunder with racial hatred and ethnic strife, a land that measured itself by how it treats the least of these, a land in which strength is defined not simply by the capacity to wage war but by the determination to forge peace — a land in which all of God’s children might come together in a spirit of brotherhood.”

President Obama was elected because so many saw in his leadership the possibility of fundamental change. But as Barack Obama said on his election night, “This victory alone is not the change we seek — it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.” He acknowledged the power of all those working at the grass roots. Now we have the opportunity to work together to help him fulfill those promises. Historian Howard Zinn reminds us that much of Roosevelt’s New Deal came about as a result of organized pressure from large numbers of veterans, the unemployed, the homeless.

Today, as we face an economic crisis, we are fortunate to have so many in our community who are promoting Martin Luther King’s vision by helping those in need however we can — not only by sharing money, time, information, advocating for the neediest but also by working to address root causes of poverty, inequality and violence.

Here in eastern Maine it is heartening that so many of our fellow residents stock food pantries, collect money for heating assistance, set up warming centers, provide soup kitchens and housing for the homeless. Since all our individual efforts are not enough to deal with the growing need created by failed government policies, we also are fortunate to have those who are working to ensure government programs to assist those in need continue to be funded.

However, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that as long as we continue to spend nearly half the discretionary part of our tax dollars on the military and pursue military solutions to conflicts we will not have the resources to solve the problems we face and meet basic human needs.

In his l967 speech at the Riverside Church, Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged the importance of helping those harmed by government policies and urged fundamental change. “We are still called upon to give aid to the beggar who finds himself in misery and agony on life’s highway. But one day, we must ask the question of whether an edifice which produces beggars must not be restructured and refurbished … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Today as we face the devastation caused by the policies of the previous administration and Congress and the hope of positive change with the new presidency, let’s find ways to make our voices heard and make Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream a reality. Members of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine invite you to join a conversation about Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. l8, at the Keith Anderson Community Center in Orono and then stay for a potluck supper at 5:30 and share a song, a poem or a vision at an “I Have a Dream Cafe” from 6 to 8 p.m.

Ilze Petersons works with the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.

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