MLK's Lessons for Hawaii

06/11/2015 03:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2016

Hawaii has been blessed with strong grassroots people's movement of late. In no particular order, there has been a marriage equality movement, an anti-gmo movement, the Save Mauna Kea movement, and others. But yet, Hawaii seems to be winning significant battles, yet losing the war against greed, corruption, and oppression overall.

Why is that?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana, 20th century American philosopher

In 1967, at Riverside Church in NY, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech calling on people to oppose the Vietnam War because it was unjust, illegal, and immoral.

Of course, the main result of the speech was MLK being attacked by none other than his own fellow civil rights activists. The refrains are all too familiar and have undoubtedly been uttered in various ways numerous times throughout history.

There was criticism that he shouldn't water down the movement. Focus on your own movement. You'll invite new enemies. You'll detract from the civil rights message. Stick to what you know. After all, what did he know about foreign policy and national security, war and peace? He'd lose funding, support, there'd be a backlash, yada, yada, yada.

So how did he respond to his detractors? Bless his ever loving righteous soul, he decided to start traveling across the country giving speeches to answer his critics and reach individuals to convince them to oppose the Vietnam War.

Why did he speak out for Vietnamese people far, far away from U.S.? He would say, "I cannot segregate my moral concerns." The idea being that we must challenge all forms of injustice because they are all interconnected.

In his speech at Berkeley, he essentially said that many leaders wait until the consensus is formed and and then run to the front of the group and declare leadership. Real leaders however would have the audacity and courage to risk shaping a new consensus

After all, MLK believed that there is an ethical obligation, right, and responsibility to educate people to understand the interrelatedness and interconnectedness of the relationships between and among all issues of oppression and injustice. You could hear that refrain from many 60's social movement leaders. They got it.

It was abundantly clear to MLK that we were "dropping bombs in North Vietnam that were exploding in the ghettos and barrios" of the U.S. He absolutely understood that budgets are moral documents. There is a relationship between the absurd amounts spent for war and the inability to address the injustice that was, and still is, taking place in the ghettos and barrios. The wrong priorities basically.

You see, "Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice," as Albert Einstein used to say. Peace is the umbrella of all movements because to come together under the banner of peace forces us to challenge all forms of injustice.

But yet, when the war ended everyone went home to leave relatively small fragmented groups to fight racism, poverty, hunger, disease, houselessness, etc. President Johnson's "Great Society" programs were supposed to address many of these issues, but got derailed by the war. So everyone is left to wonder what would have happened if after people ended the war in Vietnam they decided to continue dealing with other forms of injustice

Peace is more than the absence of war but the absence of conditions that give rise to war. Violence and oppression are the root of much evil throughout history.

So here we are in 2015. Rich folks and corporations are still calling the shots. It's not that there aren't important victories. There are. But until movements unite there will be no meaningful change. Only the baby boomers have a recollection of what "people power" looks like. There wasn't 20 people holding signs, or a few hundred at a demonstration, or a couple thousand people at rally. There were literally millions of people marching in the streets all across the country.


"United we stand. Divided we fall" - Aesop, John Dickinson, and most famously, Patrick Henry

Ironically, the new motto of the billionaire class and the wealthy multinational corporations is "Citizens United" -- meaning in essence an attempt to return to an oligarchical form of government through the unlimited amounts of corrupting campaign contributions.

MLK spoke out because it was the right thing to do. Now its the only thing to do. We're losing our democracy, and sliding into oligarchy. There is a defeatist level of cynacism that is at the root of the quietness of the people. Lots of people thought the election of Barack Obama would change things, but what people didn't realize that he couldn't change the world all by himself. He could steer the ship of change in the right direction, but without millions of people demanding that change, he would just be navigating a sail boat on a windless day.

Just look at the Trans Pacific Partnership, the (Lack of) Freedom Act, and the bank executives that don't go to jail for tanking the economy, etc., etc. Here in Hawaii, will Monsanto be able to sue the counties in Belgian trade tribunals with lobbyists for judges because the counties' anti-gmo laws "impede trade"? Will developers be able to buy the governors and mayors until they pave over paradise and put up a parking lot? Will billionaires be able to continue to pay for desecration of the land for their personal pet projects?

Not if the movements stand together.

Bernie Sanders, an awesome aging hippie, knows movements, and is the only credible candidate from the two main parties not funded by billionaires and large multinational corporations. He cannot save us, but he can be that leader who helps form a consensus that movements *must* unite. The people must stand up for the good of the country, and in fact the good of the world.