The community operating system of VisionLink is built to enable the operational connections between needs and assets across our nation's communities. It is an honor to build the tools used by leaders, staff and volunteers across the United States as they work to weave resilient and connected communities.
Dr. W. Douglas Zimmerman
President and CEO
Martin Luther King Day, 2013
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964
It is still the Winter of America's discontent. It is as a deeply divided nation that we prepare to celebrate President Obama's second inauguration. We continue to hunker down in our own ideological camps, refusing to think outside our own box, treating the words of anyone with whom we disagree as if they were incoming missiles rather than opportunities for dialogue.
Meanwhile too many of our people continue to be unemployed, too few can even earn enough to pay taxes, our medical entitlements continue to grow through the roof, we are spending considerably more than we take in, we have no long-term economic strategy-let alone a tax policy to enable it. Instead of cooperating with the other side, our politicians sound like Groucho Marx in Horsefeathers: "Whatever it is I'm against it."
The reaction of the NRA and the coalition of gun-control lobbies to the horrific events in Newtown last month illustrate just how divided we are. Each talks past each other, each more passionate, each more armed with its "facts."
Where is that more perfect union the founders bequeathed? Where are the blessings of liberty they secured for us, their posterity?
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I share this dream. I have shared it my entire life. I too dream of a day when we live out our creed, of a day when we treat each other as equals, of a day when children ... live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ... of a day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'
I grew up in an America where legally-mandated segregation was reality. Fifty years ago in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and the rest of the old South, Blacks could not drink from "whites only" water fountains, could not sit at "whites only" lunch counters or swim at "whites only" public swimming pools. I came-of-age politically growing up in Detroit in the 1950s when I was part of a picket line outside Woolworth's because Blacks were not allowed to sit at lunch counters in Woolworth stores in the segregated South.
In the America I grew up in, Black children were educated in segregated schools, separate although far from equal. Black men felt the need to cross the street when a white man was coming, fearing for themselves and their families. Fifty years ago, Blacks could not vote nor could they peacefully demonstrate for their freedom.
... this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. -Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 1801
Fifty years ago, the year of the March on Washington and King's I Have a Dream speech, 100 years after Blacks were freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Blacks were a minority without equal rights and without the protection of the law.
The next year, on July 2, 1964, the 188th Anniversary of the day the Continental Congress voted America's independence from Great Britain, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Later that year, Martin Luther King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The next year, on August 6th, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
Free at last ... nearly 100 years after the Civil War had ended slavery ... America was finally agreeing to live out the true meaning of our creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men-including Blacks- are created equal.'
What we did in the 1960s and what we have been doing ever since is affirming the rights of minorities: rising up to live out the true meaning of our creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men-and women, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sexual orientation- are created equal.'
Or as Jefferson put it: that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now ... We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools. -Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we are to break through America's political impasse, we the people have no alternative but to learn to live together. We the people have also seen throughout our history what we are capable of achieving when we work together, unleashing and focusing our energies towards meeting our challenges.
It is the true meaning of our creed that teaches us how to get along. Miracles appear when we live out the true meaning of our creed, when we treat all men and women-even our political opponents-as political equals. Our opponents have interests, concerns, hopes, fears and aspirations just like we do. They're in the same boat as we are. We either learn to live together or we perish.
Imagine if we the people committed to living out the true meaning of our creed. Imagine if we stepped up and did our part to make it happen, treating each other with respect, with understanding, with compassion and with that special feeling that we are part of a shared American community.
As King reminded us, Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. And love means applying our creed to others, treating those with whom we disagree with the same respect as we would want them to treat us.
Imagine if the gun control lobby and the NRA lived out the true meaning of our creed, accepting as self-evident that all men and women-both those who want gun control and those who oppose gun control- are created equal.'
Imagine if the two sides started meeting regularly, getting to know each other, understanding each other's lives and their concerns, discovering as Lincoln reminded us that we are friends, not enemies. Would that not lead to common ground, to doing better than we are doing now? Would that not make for a more perfect union?
Imagine if even one side sincerely reached out to the other ... taking the other side's perspective seriously, with respect; recognizing that those who hold a different perspective are also created equal.
Imagine the impact, for example, if the NRA donated $5 million to fund mental health studies that might lower the incidence of these senseless killings. Or the impact if the gun control lobby donated $5 million to the NRA to jointly produce and distribute an educational Keep Your Gun Safe program to help gun owners keep their guns from falling into the wrong hands. Perhaps both groups might each donate $2 million for programs to prevent bullying in our schools. Imagine the impact if we the people simply lived America's creed.
As we live America's creed, we unleash our imagination, our creativity, our ability to work hard, our sense of community, our readiness for shared-sacrifice, our entrepreneurial spirit; all those qualities that define what is exceptional in America.
"When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank god, I'm free at last.'"
Let Freedom Ring.
Copyright © 2013. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.