Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King day 2009

The Following are my remarks for the Martin Luther King day celebration in North Adams:

Once again we find ourselves here celebrating the life of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. I am happy that we take the time and effort each year to celebrate his life. It is not just a fitting tribute, but is also a reminder that we need to continue his noble work.

I was reminded of this as I read this quote recently,
“The unfinished legacy that calls us still – is a fundamental belief in the continued perfection of American ideals.

It’s a belief that says if this nation was truly founded on the principles of freedom and equality; it could not sit idly by while millions were shackled because of the color of their skin. That if we are to shine as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, we must be respected not just for the might of our military, but for the reach of our ideals. That if this is a land where destiny is not determined by birth or circumstance, we have a duty to ensure that the child of a millionaire and the child of a welfare mom have the same chance in life. That if out of many, we are truly one, then we must not limit ourselves to the pursuit of selfish gain, but that which will help all Americans rise together.”

This could have been said by Dr King, but was spoken recently by President–elect Barak Obama. He reminds us that we must be ever mindful that it is up to each of us to continue the work of Rev King and that that is our duty as Americans. But we should also find great joy in this day and in tomorrow historic inauguration.
Anyone who knows me knows that music plays a large part in my life. Lately I have been thinking a lot about some of the civil rights songs of the sixties. Songs like, “I woke up this morning with my mind on freedom”; or “I’m on my way to Freedomland”; and of course, “The Times They are achangin’”!!!

What an historic event tomorrow. And it would not have happened if James Farmer hadn’t lead protesters with CORE or Julian Bond hadn’t organized students. The voting rights act happened because people like John Lewis and Willie Ricks organized thousands to fight the old Jim Crow laws. So many individuals knew it was up to them to stride down that road to freedom. And all of those individuals were inspired by the leadership, courage and faith of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. He was an inspiration to each and every one of these leaders as he still is to all of us.
What faith and courage that took. Reverend King lived in a different time. I am old enough to remember public officials standing in front of school steps to deny entrance to black students. I am old enough to remember the protest marches in front of angry crowds with little help from government, and people being killed just for asking to vote or to use a water fountain. Yet, in those tumultuous times, in those most dangerous times, Dr. King had faith that, together, using nonviolent means, he, and those oppressed would overcome oppression. He had a profound faith in his God, in his fellow man and in his cause, that one day we would reach a place where all would be treated equally. He foretold that in his “I have a dream” speech.
He said, “Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

Well, we took a big step forward this year. For the first time in the history of this country, tomorrow, a Black man who grew up in less than rich means, married to a woman whose ancestors were both slaves and slave owners, will take the oath of office as President of these United States, the most powerful position in the world. How great is that?

It wasn’t easy, but it is world changing. In my lifetime I have seen a country that has gone from a time when a black man could not vote in large parts of this country to the inauguration tomorrow. How times have changed in the last few decades.
Barak Obama got more votes cast for him than any man in history. And as I said, he won in places where when I was growing up, blacks weren’t allowed to vote. Think of that! In Georgia, where Martin Luther King was brought up, and people were arrested in the 60’s for simply wanting to go to college, Obama got 47% of the vote. In Virginia, capitol of the Confederacy, He won with 53%. He won the Southern state of North Carolina. That is truly uplifting. Even in Mississippi, where Martin Luther King said in his I have a dream speech, I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. In Mississippi, Obama got 43% of the vote. That is amazing. And so it went. In South Carolina where they still fly the Confederate flag, 45%!

Alabama, well, Alabama shows us that we still have some work to do. But in the privacy of the voting booth, where no one would see their vote, people overwhelmingly voted for Barak Obama. What a great country we live in.
The ability to elect a black man has the potential of being transformative in this country. And again, Rev. King foretold that.

In his “Give us the Ballot” Speech in 1957, he said,
“But even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress are to give us the right to vote.
Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.
Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.
Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.
In this juncture of our nation's history, there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership.”

Well, my friends, those words ring true today. We have elected a man who will lead us that has the same sense of justice and equality as did Rev. King. He wasn’t elected because he was black, but because he inspired those with his words, wisdom, and message. And that is the truly inspiring thing about this election. It is not just that the first Black man was elected by a majority white population, but that it was done regardless of his color. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud that we have broken this barrier, but it is important to celebrate the fact that race didn’t matter to many voters. That is a true sign of equality and a sign of how far we have come.

Now comes the tough part. We all have to work hard to make sure he succeeds, because if he does, we all succeed. We have many challenges in front of us. Our economy has faltered and that hurts our poorest citizens and makes it that much harder to overcome poverty and despair. The world is watching to see if we regain our position as a leader in human rights. And we still stand guard over the gains we have made as there are those who would take them away. We are challenged in this nation, but we have a leader that understands that and was elected to lead us to regain our glory as a nation. But he needs all of our help, our ideas, our understanding, and our sweat equity in order to be successful.

Wendell Berry is a farmer philosopher from Kentucky. I heard him speak a number of years ago, and his words are very relevant today. He said that the public world is obsessed with leadership. But it is leadership without members. Society is hooked on heroics without wanting to participate by doing the small things that help our leaders. People want you to fix problems without any impact on them. That has to change. We need to regain that understanding that it takes all of us to succeed. Dr. King knew that it takes all of us to make a difference. That is his legacy and his challenge to us all.

In a speech in Birmingham, he said, “the thing we are all challenged to do is to keep this movement moving. There is power in unity and numbers.”

Today we celebrate the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. And tomorrow, let’s all celebrate the election of President –Elect Barak Obama. And Wednesday, we need to rededicate ourselves to keep this movement moving. We are the unity and the numbers that Reverend King to which Rev. King referred.
The need is still there. As far as we have come, we have a ways to go. A Springfield church burning or the Jena 6 incidents in Louisiana are reminders of our need to remain vigilant and continue to work hard. And the challenge is to do so in a nonviolent way with love towards all of our fellow man as Dr. King exhorted us to do. His message was one of injustice in racism and poverty, but it is also one of hope and love. It is a message of faith and it is uplifting. And it is not one of faceless people in need of help. It is a message about you and me. It is as simple as that.

Tomorrow will be a wonderful day full of pomp and circumstance and we can rightfully rejoice in our new President. But on Wednesday, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to advance the cause that Dr. King so nobly advanced and gave his life for. That is his requirement of us and our duty as citizens of this great nation and as members of humanity. Our humanity and the greatness of this nation are, and were founded on, our ability to help those in need of our help. We need to reach out for, (with a little help from Bob Dylan,)
“the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones and worse
And for every needy person in the whole wide universe” Only then can we truly
“ gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing”
Perhaps that was Dr. King’s greatest lasting gift to us, to let us see that if it is to be it is up to me. And you, and you, and each and every one of us. We are the unity. We are the numbers. We are the strength of the movement that has lead us to Barak Obama. That is our mission and our faith. Let me leave you with Rev. King’s own words about this:

“Go out with that faith today. Go back to your homes in the Southland to that faith, with that faith today. Go back to Philadelphia, to New York, to Detroit and Chicago with that faith today: that the universe is on our side in the struggle. Stand up for justice. Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions. And even after you've crossed the Red Sea, you have to move through a wilderness with prodigious hilltops of evil and gigantic mountains of opposition. But I say to you this afternoon: Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.

I realize that it will cause restless nights sometime. It might cause losing a job; it will cause suffering and sacrifice. It might even cause physical death for some. But if physical death is the price that some must pay to free their children from a permanent life of psychological death, then nothing can be more Christian. Keep going today. Keep moving amid every obstacle. Keep moving amid every mountain of opposition. If you will do that with dignity, when the history books are written in the future, the historians will have to look back and say, "There lived a great people. A people with 'fleecy locks and black complexion,' but a people who injected new meaning into the veins of civilization : a people which stood up with dignity and honor and saved Western civilization in her darkest hour a people that gave new integrity and a new dimension of love to our civilization." When that happens, "the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy."

Thank you and God Bless America and our new President.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

To all those who have read and/or commented on this blog; to all those who have helped make the First Berkshire District and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts a better place to live; for all those who have reached out to each other with a helping hand or a word of encouragement; and for all those who have exhibited a kindness to the world around them, thank you for your help in 2008. You are the true heroes in our society and I wish each and very one of you a wonderful 2009. As the old saying goes: May the best day of last year be the worst day of this year.
2008 was a tough year. The economy tanked in a way I have not seen in 22 years in office. Budgets were slashed and a lot of people found themselves far worse off than they started the year. It is going to take a long time to turn this economy around, but with this Presidential election this year, we have an opportunity to work together in this nation to make it a much better place. We shouldn't be divided into red states and blue states. We shouldn't get angry if we disagree on issues. We should realize that disagreement is part of the decision making process and the true test of a nation and its people is the ability to work together despite differences of opinion. Let us all pledge, or make a new year's resolution that we will work together with less acrimony in order to advance those things that we all care about. Again, a heartfelt happy new year to all and best wishes for 2009.