In his Riverside Church speech almost 51 years ago, Martin Luther King connected racism, militarism, and extreme materialism, all of which, he said, ride on the tide of hate. He said that our loyalties must become “ecumenical rather than sectional,” meaning that racism, militarism, and extreme materialism intersect and reinforce each other.
What we are seeing in the United States today and to some extent, here in Europe, are
these same forces: racism, especially in online discourse and out of the mouths of elected officials; militarism, reflected not only in real war but in NRA-sponsored sharp-shooting courses in our public schools; and extreme materialism, which can be seen in our political lobbies, in the Citizens United decision, in the corruption of Congress that is so obvious.
The huge amount of money pouring into politics promotes the agendas of large donors. Let’s be clear: Those ads we see on social media and television are designed to divide us, to weaken our voices, to distract us, and to hinder true debate. They are designed to focus our attention on one issue at a time and one group at a time rather than on the society as a whole.
We need to take back the political discussion, to see how issues are connected and how individuals are connected—across communities of color, economic class, sexual orientation, and religion.
In this as in other ways, the students in Parkland, Florida, are setting us an example: two weeks ago they met with high school students from Chicago, one of the cities in America most affected by gun violence. These young people – black and white, urban and suburban – sat down together to talk about the future they want to create. These young people refuse to be divided; they refuse to ride the tide of hate. They are educating themselves and organizing themselves, as we must also educate and organize ourselves.
In that speech 51 years ago, Dr. King also talked about the “urgency of now.” We must also recognize the urgency of now. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice. Or else it really will be too late. Right now we still have choices to make. Let’s all start right here, right now – with gun control.