In case you were not aware, today, April 4th, 2008, marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Television, radio, print and internet journalists, publishers and pundits poured forth with memorials, remembrances and lessons borne from their experiences with, or memories of King. Jesse Jackson, in a widely published opinion piece reminded us that there is more work to be done to bring justice to all the peoples of America. That Dr. King would have been satisfied to know that today’s America – a place where the adjusted-for-inflation median income of African Americans has doubled in the time since his death – has before it a Black man and a woman leading the competition for the highest office in the land.
He reminds us that America has become more like the Promised Land that Dr. King spoke of in his most famous speech.
Look at our leaders! See what this country has become!
Yet, we’re reminded that there’s more work to be done.
Jesse Jackson is right. There is more work to be done to bring justice to these shores. There is more work to be done to bring equality to this place. Work to be done, indeed.
But I believe that the time for leadership is over.
I will spare you a long list of failures. I won’t remind you of the imperfect humanity that lies beneath the skin of every man and woman who seeks to lead, because their weakness, their humanity, is the same weakness and humanity as yours and mine.
I believe that America has become inured to the sweet seductions of demagogues and demi-gods. We see the weaknesses in our leaders and we lose faith in them, and lose faith in their ability to lead us from darkness to light, and consequently, we lose faith in the system of leadership.
We retreat to our iPods and iPhones, youtube and Colbert. We seek solace from the harsh realities that loom over us like the dark shadows of a million rain clouds.
We live our lives as though there isn’t a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Israel, Pakistan, India, China, Tibet, Colombia. We act as though $100 a barrel oil is just not all that. We think the credit crisis is some wealthy banker’s problem. We ignore the scaffold-toppling wind-storms in New York, deadly lightning in Arkansas, drought in Africa, cracking ice, filthy air, filthy water, poverty, and our neighbors with negative-savings suffering foreclosure.
I used to joke that as long as the malls were open and they took credit cards, nothing in this country would ever change.
I see a government falling over itself to ensure that nothing in this country will ever change. I see attempts to allay the consequences of reckless fiscal policy with even more heavy-handed and more reckless fiscal policy.
I see hard times ahead for everyone.
I live in Beacon, New York and have occasion to see Pete Seeger. On MLK day in 2008, I played bass with his loosely assembled band at an MLK memorial at the Springfield Baptist Church.
I listened to what he said about his time with Dr. King. I listened to other veterans of Selma and Montgomery speak about their experiences with Dr. King.
And now it occurs to me that the leadership our nation sorely needs is not going to be found in another MLK. Like waiting for the messiah, we embrace and discard so many worthy and unworthy men and women. We seize on a ray of hope, a hint of promise. A Black man for President. A woman for President. A grizzled war veteran for President.
But the time has passed for a new MLK, or JFK, or Reagan. There is no place today for a uniter thanks to the vast efficiency of the dividers.
We need leadership desperately, but now it must come from within. From within each one of us, from within our villages, towns and neighborhoods. We need one hundred million MLKs to stand up in school, to stand up in Church, to stand up in the town hall and say “I have a dream”. To promise to themselves first, then to their neighbors that they alone will work to make a difference. That they will live their lives for the betterment of mankind without wishing for recognition and honor, fame and wealth. That they will truly think globally and act locally. I know it’s been said a million times by a million bumper stickers, but today, more than at any other time in this nation’s recent history is it true: change comes from within.