Martin Luther King Jr.’s words are as relevant today as they were more than half a century ago and should continue to inspire change.
‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.’
— Martin Luther King Jr.
THE words of Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1958 book “Stride Toward Freedom,” remain as relevant today as when he said them more than half a century ago. He didn’t pick sides. He raised everyone up. He wanted America to fulfill its aspirations as a country and a people.
This nation will never fulfill Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for America until more citizens take responsibility for the future and do their work for democracy.”
People may find the ongoing relevance of King’s words a little sad. America is still working on many of the same problems it aimed to tackle in King’s time: racism, intolerance, sexism, xenophobia, freedom at home and abroad.
As President Obama said in his farewell speech last week, the work is not easy, progress is slow, but America is moving in the right direction, most of the time.
The future of this country, the president said, is in the hands of the citizens, the people who have the most important job in this democracy.
“Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, when they get engaged, when they come together to demand it,” Obama reminded.
Americans can choose to spend the next four years complaining, arguing on social media and yelling at their neighbors. Or they can channel their anger and keep working to make this country better for everyone.
Begin your celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with inspiration. Go online and read his words. Think about the future of this nation in a fresh way. Then follow the advice of the man who has been president for the past eight years, because sitting on your couch, crafting snarky political comments to post on social media isn’t changing the world:
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one of them in real life,” Obama said.
“If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.”
Democracy is not easy. It’s not neat or logical or predictable. But it’s better than the alternative.
About 100 years before King was sharing his words of wisdom, President Abraham Lincoln made his Gettysburg Address in 1863, as the bloody Civil War waged on. He described the U.S. system as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Spend some time this holiday weekend thinking about what that means. Voting is only the first job of the citizen. Speaking up against injustice. Staying informed. Paying taxes to support the work of the government, while participating in the decision-making process by contacting lawmakers and testifying before committees, city councils or school boards. The list of responsibilities for Americans is long.
This nation will never fulfill Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for America until more citizens take responsibility for the future and do their work for democracy.