Honoring the Spirit of MLK

01/15/2007 08:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

I gave the following remarks at an anti-war rally in San Leandro, CA on Martin Luther King Day.

Almost 40 years ago, Martin Luther King went to the famed Riverside Church in New York City to make his first public statements opposing the war in Vietnam. He told the crowd assembled that day that it was time to break the silence.

King had come to the conclusion that the war in Vietnam was an unjust, evil and futile exercise. We have gathered here today, some five decades later, with those same concerns.

By invading and occupying the sovereign nation of Iraq, we, along with the rest of the world, have watched in disbelief as our government suffering from the malignant tumor of megalomania that threatens to invade the lymph nodes our moral compass, which will render our democratic values to hospice care.

Just a King stated on a hot August afternoon in 1963 at the March on Washington, that the promissory note of all being created equal as it related to African Americans came back stamped insufficient funds, we too must now wonder whether or not this misguided war has led to the moral bankruptcy of the republic.

For the legacy that was first articulated by Jefferson, held together by Lincoln, preserved and fortified by Roosevelt is now being consumed under the weight of no bid contracts, cherry picked intelligence, fear, division, and a cheap patriotism that neatly divides the world into us vs. them.

We have been let down by a bipartisan coalition of elected officials who found it more expedient to appear patriotic than to possess the courage required to be patriotic.

Like King, we have come to the conclusion that we can no longer be silent. Because this illegal war only directly impacts the finite group of military families, and is imposing its arrogance on a people whom for the most part speak a language that we do not, worship in a way the most of us do not, and is experienced largely through sounds bites, is no excuse to sit on the sidelines of conformity bemoaning that someone ought to do something.

We gather today affirming that we are the "someone," who will take a stand.

In the spirit of Martin Luther King we take a stand in opposition to the 21,500 souls that are now being asked to prolong this madness. This plan fails militarily, this plan fails politically, and it fails to meet the standards set by the Founding Fathers.

In addition, we call on our government to begin the process of returning the brave men and women, who comprise our armed forces, back to their families.

We are no longer interested in "Mission Accomplished," "we've turned the corner," or "stay the course,"

This war of choice has taken a heavy toll of our nation's blood and treasure. It has led to the selective application of habeas corpus; the violation of international law, the systematic use of torture; over 3,000 Americans dead, over 20,000 wounded, and the death of an estimated 655,000 Iraqis.

In our attempts to demonstrate to the world the nobility of our ideas, we have shown ourselves to be no different than the enemy we claim to abhor. And as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman so accurately assesses, through our tax dollars and energy consumption, we are funding both sides of the war on terror.

It was immoral to invade Iraq. It is immoral to stay. And given what we have done, it will be immoral to leave. But we cannot support a policy that keeps our men and women in harm's way because we are unable to admit the gravity of our mistakes.

We call on our government to return the values that made America the great nation that it was and could be again. We say this not because we hate America, but rather because we love America. And there can be no disappointment where there is no love.

We stand today at the crossroads, at the intersection of war and peace. And while the gravitational pull of war is strong, it must give way to indomitable force of peace.

For in the words of Marvin Gaye: "War is not the answer for only love can conquer hate. Love is the key the opens the door to ultimate reality. This Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Christian belief about ultimate reality are what binds each of us together.

And it is what propels us to take the stand that we take today. But let us also accept Martin Luther King's challenge to us.

On April 12, 1963 eight white clergy, published an open letter to appeal to the Negroes of Birmingham, to ignore those so-called outside agitators in order to allow the long over due process of equal protection under the law take its natural course with all deliberate speed and disavow any further civil disobedience.

They wrote: "We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham." Adding, "We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified."

But King took particular note in the letter of being called an extremist. King took it upon himself to redefine the minister's negative characterization and transform it into something that the participants within the Civil Rights Movement, and subsequent movements, including those of us gathered today, could thereafter wear as a badge of honor.

King wrote the following in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail"

"But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.

"Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

"Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."

"Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal ..."

So the question that we must answer today is the same question that King posed in 1963, not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be? We will be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Will we be extremist for war or will we be extremist for peace?

So let us today, in the courageous prophetic spirit of Martin Luther King, declare a declaration of interdependence by committing ourselves to the struggle that fear and hatred is no match for possibility and hope.

At the same time, we must also ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness for participating in the silence of consent; forgiveness because our collective silence has allowed guns, the death penalty, tax cuts, war, the destruction of our natural resources and the dehumanization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters to be synonymous with the will of God.

We, too, are guilty of collectively dancing the seductive melody of nationalism's "you are either with us or against us" chorus, which was nothing more than the morphine of comfort that allows one to condense dissent into a lack of patriotism.

But we proclaim on this day that dissent is the oxygen of democracy. Without it, we would risk choking on the fumes from our own megalomania.

We confess in the words of Martin Luther King, "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny."

We declare a respect for the opinions of those whose worldview may differ from ours, for they are not our enemies.

But we hold certain truths to be self-evident; that all are created equal. We have been endowed with certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And because it is the pursuit of happiness, we recognize that there is a nexus of hope that stands in the gap.

There is a nexus of hope that says justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. A nexus of hope that says weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. A nexus of hope that will make the rough edges smooth and the crooked places straight.

Not only does our interdependence connect us to each other, it also connects us to our past.

Therefore, we believe that Martin King was right: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

We believe that James Russell Lowell was right: Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, yet that scaffold sways the future.

We believe that Fannie Lou Hamer was right: We, too, are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

We believe that Gandhi was right: An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.

We believe that Abraham Heschel was right: The road to the sacred leads through the secular.

We believe that the old blues song is right: The sun is gon shine in my back door someday.

For in the words of John Kennedy: "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."