Dr. King and today’s call for a revolution of values

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“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As our nation honors the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King 50 years after his assassination with a bevy of commercial and often superficial tributes, the soul of our nation slips further away from his message of peace, justice and inclusion.  

{mosads}Last week, President Donald Trump signed legislation extending King’s federal holiday and said in his honor, “While Dr. King is no longer with us, his words and his vision only grow stronger with time. Today we mourn his loss. We celebrate his legacy. And we pledge to fight for his dream of equality, freedom, justice and peace.


A day before he honored King with his words, Trump used profanity-laced diatribes regarding immigrants from African, Caribbean and Central American nations.

Trump’s split-personality regarding his attempts to honor King and African-American ancestors, whose lives were committed to tearing down barriers of discrimination in the face of mass condemnation and violence, reminds me of the passage from Mark 7:6 where it says, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

In King’s time he faced the likes of Bull Connor and George Wallace. Today we have Trump, who is a problem. However, and I say this carefully, he is not THE problem.

Jane Mayer, a writer for New Yorker Magazine and author of “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” highlights how those such as the Koch brothers use “weaponized philanthropy” to influence elections. She mentions how they raised close to $900 million to influence the 2016 presidential election, as well as other 2016 elections and community, educational and philanthropic efforts.

Her book, according to a New York Times interview, also discusses these covert funding networks and how the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court “removed virtually all limits on corporate campaign funding and fostered its anonymity.”

“Dark Money” reveals the many ways in which some of our nation’s wealthiest citizens, through camouflaged networks and shell organizations, work to shrink our democracy so that the vote of the poor is not only diluted — through voter suppression plans and partisan gerrymandering — at times it also is inaccessible.

The common person, whether scholar or layperson, knows our unhindered right to the vote remains the only weapon against the current paradigm where government remains more responsive to the desires of the wealthy than the average person. The existence of this sad reality represents a barrier to King’s much sought after revolution of values that he argued for in his speech, “Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.”    

King argued, “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. … A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. 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.’”

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, after the economy expanded from World War II to the 1970s, our nation has trended toward vast levels of inequality with “concentration of income at the very top of the distribution,” rising to levels last seen during The Roaring Twenties. In fact, the 1 richest percent now owns more of America’s wealth than at any other time in the past half-century.

Today, King would look at the recent trillion-dollar tax bill by Congress — which  disproportionately benefits our nation’s wealthiest individuals and which, on the flip side, is expected to remove health care for 13 million through abandonment of the Affordable Care Act’s  individual mandate — and he would once again utter a call for the revolution of values.

King didn’t use pollsters to determine what was right, or segregate his morality. He paid a harsh price for it. All major media viciously attacked him for his stance when he directly challenged the military industrial complex for proliferating war and taking resources away from those mired in poverty.

While no longer mired in the battle against legal segregation, we still struggle against the subtle and modern ways in which black lives are demonized, objectified and dehumanized. We also continue our struggle against forces who view the ability of all Americans to have the same power at the ballot box as a problem and threat to their wellbeing.

Important individuals with access to all the material wealth and luxuries the world has to offer, instead of helping to alleviate war and poverty, spend their tremendous resources to dilute the vote. Rather than making democracy real, they confuse the public by reframing formerly universal values such as freedom to mean the unfettered right of corporations to influence society or pursue wealth.

Similar to the call by colonists for liberty and freedom from tyranny during the Revolutionary
War, while Africans lay shackled in chains on plantations, we ask, “What does democracy mean
when the vote is unequal and no longer the barometer of democracy?”

What King realized more than anything else was that the evils of racism, militarism and poverty not only prevent our nation from becoming a beloved community, but also, because of our tremendous influence, impact the world’s ability for positive change.

This is why the most recent racist comments and policies emerging from the White House serve as an eerie reminder of King’s prophetic admonishment that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

On this day, the NAACP calls on all individuals, regardless of political affiliation, to stand against the attempts to remake our democracy into something less than what it has the potential to be. Honor Dr. King and live his legacy through your actions. Speak out, and speak up, for surely history will judge us all for our silence.

Derrick Johnson is president and CEO of the NAACP.

Tags Counterculture of the 1960s Democracy Donald Trump Donald Trump Martin Luther King Jr. Montgomery bus boycott Sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

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