Each year's celebration of Dr. King's birthday reminds us of the perfect formula for neutralizing and even neutering the message and mission of one of the great prophetic figures of American history. Give him a national holiday, build a magnificent monument in his honor, name avenues and schools after him and thereby receive a dispensation from taking his teaching about justice and social change seriously and incorporating his vision into concrete public policy.
We love that "I have a dream" speech, surely one of the great expressions of American oratory. Yet few of us know that the same gentleman of God also raged that America had become "a nightmare" because of the four-headed monster of "racism, poverty, militarism and materialism." In fact, King's analysis of our society offers one of the toughest critiques of capitalism, the military-industrial complex and the unequal distribution of our wealth between the 99 percent and the 1 percent.
This year, an interfaith network of religious leaders called IMAC (Interfaith Moral Action on Climate) has decided to revive the authentic prophetic message of King. On January 15, his 84th birthday, this group of Evangelicals, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Catholics, Buddhists and others (some coming from communities struck by Sandy), will gather outside of the White House for a "Pray-in for the Climate." They have concluded that, were he still alive today, he would join them in declaring that climate change is one of the greatest moral issues of our time.
They will be praying with their feet and bodies as well as with their spirits. At the end of their multi-religious service, some of them will assume positions of prayer according to their respective traditions on the forbidden sidewalk in front of the White House, thereby risking arrest. Dr. King taught that civil disobedience was called for in times of extreme danger to the nation -- in this case, the planet.
The message of this Pray-in to President Obama is the same one that King used in his famous controversial speech on the war in Vietnam: "The time has come to break the silence" -- in this case, the climate silence. Virtually not a word about this issue was uttered during the presidential campaign, and since then, the few words that slipped out have been compromising and compromised. These faith representatives are asking for leadership and courage from President Obama after Superstorm Sandy, one of the hottest years in history, devastating droughts, massive ice melts, and increasingly cruel impacts on the poor. One of the leading NASA scientists has called it a "national emergency." A recent UN Report concluded that in less than a year, an ice sheet larger than the U.S. had melted.
IMAC is calling on the president to oppose construction of the XL tar sands pipeline, to convene an emergency national climate summit, to call for a carbon fee instead of the massive subsidies for the fossil fuel corporations, and to fund a crash program for clean energy. The Congress is also being chastised for its silence and for its refusal to fund relief for the victims of Sandy.
For those who would say that these are unreasonable demands and "What's the hurry?" this community of faith would respond with the burning words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
"We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. ... Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: 'Too late.'"