A Revolution of Values, the Fierce Urgency of Now

Monday, January 16, was Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. A day America celebrates Dr. King’s selfless and courageous non-violent struggle for social change.

Of all Dr. King’s oratory accomplishments, the best known is his 1963 “I have a Dream” speech. However, “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence,” delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, is equally as significant.

The speech addressed poverty, racism, and militarism at a time in our country when the Vietnam War and racism deeply polarized America. It was a time of profound turmoil and of intense hostility. President Kennedy, Dr. King, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. Racial violence raged in the south, and a black church in Alabama was blown up, killing four children. In 1965, there was rioting in Watts that nearly destroyed Los Angeles. There was horrifying police brutality at Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention. Then in 1969 there was “Bloody Thursday,” a despicable action taken by then Governor Ronald Reagan, who later defended his decision by saying, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement.” And at the turn into a new decade, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine.

In Dr. King’s speech, he spoke passionately about ending the Vietnam War and against the “misguided passions” of all wars.

It was very controversial, even among liberal supporters and the black community. At the time, Time magazine called the speech “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,” and the Washington Post declared that Dr. King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

Dr. King’s struggle was so violently opposed by most Americans that an assassin’s bullet, a year to the day following that speech, took his life.

If Dr. King were alive today, he would find that his work would be far from over. Today, America continues to have seriously egregious ideological differences regarding social programs that provide assistance to the indigent and those who simply do not have the where-with-all to care for themselves and their families. The struggle against the hegemonic influence of the military-industrial complex continues today, a seemingly impenetrable obstacle to achieving world peace. Dr. King would be riled at America’s incivility as demonstrated in our public and private life. He would be infuriated at America’s growing propensity for violence as demonstrated by America’s insatiable love for war, in our entertainment, war games, and on our streets. He would be appalled at America’s deplorable hate of Muslims and so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on them. He would also be a leading voice against the proliferation of guns, the unprecedented and increasing income disparity between rich and poor, and so much more that is now bringing down America.

Dr. King said that he believed it to be the privilege and burden of all to be “bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

Except for Ron Paul, not one of the other Republican presidential candidates has spoken out against war. None of them has shown compassionate concern for ordinary Americans.

If we in fact want meaningful change, there needs to be new ways of thinking and a “true revolution of values.” Candidates for President of the United States need to express that they have “allegiances and loyalties” to all of America’s people, and that the indigent and middle-class are as important as the well heeled.

If we cannot meet that commitment we are doomed, because then America will continue to be an immoral nation of militarism, violence, hate, despair, and inequity. If that happens, Martin Luther King’s struggle would have been in vain.

The time is long overdue when Americans should not be silent. We should not be silent when we hear the war drums beating and when this nation’s imperialistic goals mean more to our leaders than the wellbeing of Americans.

Dr. King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

” The fierce urgency of now” is upon us, and it is all up to you and me!


Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence, American Rhetoric online speech bank

Jeffery Kahn, Bloody Thursday, UC Berkeley News

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