The city of Fresno, like many other cities and communities across the nation, will celebrate the 90th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Jan.18 to Jan. 21, paying tributes to this icon and true American hero for his indelible contribution to civil rights, voting rights, racial harmony and equality.
Dr. King was not only a powerful orator but was also an exemplary practitioner of nonviolence who believed in the power of nonviolence to bring about social change and transformation. Through his tireless efforts as leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement, he stirred the conscience of the American people. Dr. King’s courageous and selfless devotion and personal sacrifice elevated the moral level of the nation and changed the course of American history. His was the noblest quest for human dignity, freedom and social justice.
Dr. King is well known for his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in which he outlines his dream for the freedom and aspirations of all people. That dream would have us all enjoy our freedom and life together as brothers and sisters with love and mutual respect in a peaceful world. That dream still endures and inspires us. That dream sustains and nurtures us. His words empower us. His struggle energizes and strengthens us. His life informs us, enlightens us and will continue to guide us.
How would Dr. King feel and react to the state of affairs in the nation and some of the difficult issues that we are facing today? No doubt he would be very much disappointed and troubled by the current administration in Washington, D.C. He would be critical of its divisive policies and toxic ideology that has polarized the nation and emboldened the forces of extremism and intolerance. He would be distressed by the rise of violence, particularly the epidemic of gun violence and hate that seems to have become normal in our daily life. He would be alarmed by the violence and desecration taking place at our houses of worship and consider this violence as a major public health problem.794
He would condemn the separation of children from their families, the militarization of our borders and the violence experienced by asylum seekers. Seeking asylum is a basic human right under Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the U.S. is a signatory to the declaration. Dr. King would strongly support the workers’ rights, which are under attack. Let us not forget that he gave his life when he went to support the cause and demands of sanitation workers in Memphis.
Dr. King would fight against the voter suppression policies and practices, which are coming back during this election cycle. These policies and practices are an affront to civil rights and liberties. The right to vote is a sacred right under democracy and must be protected. He would certainly support efforts for voter education and registration, including automatic registration.
Being a preacher and a devoutly religious person, Dr. King would appeal to leaders and members of various faiths to observe and practice reverence for all faiths. He would strongly support interfaith peace building, coexistence and spiritual pluralism. Dr. King used to say, “Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God.” Religious harmony is a crucial need of our times. He would be extremely happy when people of all religions, races, classes, and stations in life put aside their differences and join in a spirit of togetherness and brotherhood.
There is probably no other birthday celebration in America that can serve as a focal point to promote race relations and help unify us in the spirit of Dr. King’s dream of “Building the Beloved Community.” He would constantly remind us of life’s most persistent and urgent question, “What are you doing for others?”
Dr. King was a drum major for justice, peace, freedom, and human rights. He would support the new Bill of Rights as proposed by Tom Steyer. The old Bill of Rights needs re-examination. The new proposed Bill of Rights mentions five new rights, including the right to health care, which Dr. King would strongly support.
Dr. King’s message is timeless and matters most not only for today but forever. Let us fight back anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, misogyny and white nationalism not with hate, anger or revenge, but by confronting darkness, ignorance and negative forces with hope, resilience and nonviolent action. Let us disarm hate by personal example and build a culture of peace and nonviolence.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Sudarshan Kapoor is a professor emeritus at Fresno State University.