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Saturday, January 17, 2015
The Fierce Urgency of Now
Deep into the Vietnam quagmire, Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a fresh way forward. It still beckons us today.
Martin Luther King, Jr. always connected the civil rights of blacks with the civil rights of poor and oppressed people wherever they lived. It should have come as no surprise to anyone that he did not hesitate to speak into the Vietnam quagmire the deeper and more costly in lives, resources, and moral capital it became.
Speaking at Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, King outlined principles and way forward for America in relationship to its approach to Vietnam. Below is the conclusion of that speech, titled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence." To me, it contains some of the most poignant and prophetic challenges that transcend the occasion, time, issue and culture. To me, they speak profoundly to our global challenges and choices today. At the end of the excerpt are links to the full text and 52-minute recording of King's speech. By the way, I listened to this for the first time on my way to Vietnam in 2011.
"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, 'Too late.' There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: 'The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.'
"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might with-out morality, and strength without sight.
"Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message—of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of history.
"And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."