2015 CALL TO CONSCIENCE, COMMITMENT AND ACTION IN THE CELEBRATION OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
We are now faced with the fact 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. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” 4 April 1967).
The Fierce Urgency of Now
There comes a time when women, men, youth and children, people of all races, religions, ideological and moral commitments must act. On this day when Martin Luther King Jr is celebrated we call on Philadelphians in the thousands to unite in action to transform the rapidly deteriorating conditions of life of our people. Martin Luther King was a man of action in the causes of human rights, civil rights, labor rights and world peace. He believed that ordinary people, —working people, the poor, women and the racially oppressed— were, in the end, the authors of justice. And if our nation and city are to be saved we must recognize what King called “the fierce urgency of now” and that “time waits for no one.”
Philadelphia is more divided along race, class and gender lines than at any time in recent memory. We are two cities, one of privilege and wealth, the other of poverty, police brutality, low and poverty wages, collapsed schools and collapsing neighborhoods. Of America’s ten largest cities we are the poorest. Close to 70% of our citizens live in or very near poverty. Our children suffer the most and far too many are wrapped in lives of misery and hopelessness. Our streets are littered with the homeless, hungry and destitute.
As a nation we spend more on prisons, police, and the military than on schools, eliminating poverty, providing jobs with living wages and homes. As a nation too many value our dogs over the lives of Black young people. We are witness to the grotesque spectacle of Black and brown people murdered in our streets by police, while many of our fellow citizens look the other way, and those who run the court system find murderers in blue innocent. Such a nation lives religious hypocrisy, social decadence and a moral lie.
Any honest examination of the life of our city proves how far we are from the standard of human freedom declared in the nation’s founding document, The Declaration of Independence. Rather than human freedom we witness a colossal human tragedy and a human rights emergency. The recovery of standards of human dignity demand that everyone who loves this city and country take a hard look at the situation, and ask what must I do to change this situation. Great achievements must begin somewhere, and they always begin when people look tragedy in the face, ask what can I do and decide to act. If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations. As a city, a nation and a people we must ultimately recognize we are all wrapped in a single garment of destiny, what affects one directly affects us all indirectly.
Time to Break Silence
It is time to break the silence about what Dr. King called the triple evils: racism, poverty and militarism. These forms of violence, indeed terror, exist in a vicious cycle, deteriorating hope, progress and opportunity, as a result of humankind’s depravity toward its own.
Now is the time! We are the ones. We, the people, are the leaders we have waited for. We are compelled to speak truth to power, to say to the powerful and the powerless, enough is enough. To our elected officials we demand an end to empty promises when you run for office and service to the rich and privileged while in office. To the banks, universities, real estate developers, gentrifiers, and others that profit from our poverty and misery, we say you will be held accountable to the people of this city. To those who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes to help fund our schools, we assure you change is on the way. To the Philadelphia police department, we declare, we intend to hold you to democratic, human and anti-racist standards in your relations with Black and Brown communities.
It is time for change! It’s time for black, brown and poor communities to realize political and economic power to change conditions that shape their lives and communities. But most of all it’s time that we transform the structure of institutions, the foundations of our communities and our values.
Toward Beloved Community
We seek a beloved community, where racism, bigotry and prejudice are not tolerated and the continual reproduction of poverty, hunger and homelessness ceases. We seek beloved community where disputes are resolved within, through peaceful conflict-resolution and equitable laws serve the ends of justice. We seek beloved community founded upon a qualitative change in our souls as well as in our lives, a true revolution of values that will cause us to question the fairness and justice of our past and present (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” 4 April 1967).
Justice is what love looks like in public. Freedom and equality are what democracy looks like in actuality. Moreover, without life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for Black folk, these values can hardly exist for anyone. Black freedom is a condition of the freedom for all fellow citizens. Our commitment to justice, democracy and the people is what grounds our hope in the realization of a new city that serves all of us. Our hope is rooted in what led Martin Luther King Jr to the conviction that America could become a great nation if we the people rose up and practiced the religious, moral and social values we claim as our foundations.
From our diverse communities, faiths, moral beliefs and ideologies we are united in love for justice and our people. We are grounded in a love sublime, an all-embracing love for all God’s children. The prophets of the Old and New Testaments and the Holy Quran inspire us. We seek courage from the examples of our ancestors and embrace the spirits of our martyrs of the distant and recent past.
We will march and rally for the future of our city and nation in the spirit of hope. We are confident that change is on the way. This will continue and intensify ongoing protest actions, sit-in, die-ins, pray ins, teach ins, petitions and whatever else is necessary to turn the tide towards justice. We declare our right to protest for right. And in the words of the great Black song of hope “we ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.” We will march until, in the words of Martin Luther King, “Justice runs down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”.
What We Stand For
Racial Justice and the Dignity of each Person.
The racist school-to-prison pipeline begins in failing schools. Policies that fund schools based upon property taxes, redistribute funding to charter schools and require teachers to teach to standardized tests condemn poor communities to segregated, understaffed, under-resourced and ineffective schools. In Philadelphia, a “majority minority” city, public schools doom black and poor students to destitution, graduating only 10% of those who enter 9th grade and leaving half of all adults without the literacy skills required to compete for “family-sustaining” jobs with benefits. Bigoted racial profiling, stop and frisk, mandatory minimum sentencing and three-strikes-you’re-out policies entrap black youth in criminalization and create a culture that devalues black life and condones police misuse and abuse of power throughout the black community. Pennsylvania spends hundreds of millions to build prisons, in which more than 60% of inmates are blacks and Hispanics. For Black males in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day and two-thirds of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. These insidious policies of institutional racism, apartheid education and mass incarceration must stop!
Recognizing that liberation for black people advances the freedom of all, we must work tirelessly to extinguish racist philosophy, abolishing policies of racism and restoring the dignity, value and productive potential of the black community, black youth, and black men especially. We are committed to establishing a city and society in which all are viewed as created in the image of God with inalienable human rights and justice as their birthright.
Economic Justice and Stability.
With extremely high levels of poverty and deep poverty, the highest among major cities, Philadelphia’s unemployment rate in recent years has been 15.1% for blacks. However, when those who are underemployed or have dropped out of the labor force altogether are counted, the figure jumps to close to 30 %. Instead of tackling problems of unemployment and discrimination, Philadelphia is spending millions to displace the poor, destroying black communities and businesses, to gentrify neighborhoods for the wealthy. Nationwide, policies that privatize prisons and prison services enrich the elite who then lobby and contribute to politicians to institute draconian policies that usher blacks and browns into prisons at unheard of rates for ever increasing profits. Economic policies that enrich private corporations at the expense of poor neighborhoods, schools and families to create a black and brown permanent under-caste must stop!
We are committed to the complete elimination of poverty, the restructuring the economy and bridging the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. We must challenge our governments to deploy the technology and resources needed to eliminate the structures of poverty. We call for restructuring the systems and policies that destabilize black and poor communities, producing unemployment, homelessness, hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality and slums. We seek economic power for the poor, enabling individuals to make decisions concerning their own lives. We seek fair working conditions for laborers, ensuring the right to organize and just representation. And we seek stability for families and communities, assuring access to training, small business financing and other means of self-improvement.
Communities of Peace
Images of tanks and high-tech weapons trained on citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, as they democratically challenged injustice, are forever burned into our collective consciousness and hearts. There is no more vivid reminder today of the culture of violence that now dominates the world, our nation, cities, communities and homes. Unending wars for resources, fighting terror with terror using drones and torture, the spread of ever more deadly weaponry and establishment of policies that put the government at war with its citizens and condemn them to the violence of poverty permeate every fiber of our existence. In Philadelphia where more than 80% of homicides have been committed with guns and 242 homicides were committed in 2014 (a 2% increase over 2013) and where black males are 90% of murder victims and offenders, our youth come to believe that black lives don’t matter and only intimidation and domination win the day. As a result, they suffer abuse too often, fight on the streets and in the military beyond their numbers and die too young. This glorification of war and weapons, which are creating unending war zones, where militaries and police target, entangle and execute whole communities at will, must stop!
We are committed to ending the culture of militarism and violence that pervade our lives in the forms of war, imperialism, domestic violence, rape, terrorism, human trafficking, media violence, drugs, child abuse, violent crime and mass incarceration. We oppose rapid increase of military spending, the proliferation of high powered weapons to be used in and against our communities and the continued pursuit of war. We seek to build these communities of peace through tireless efforts, creative work and seizing the time to do right, rather than resorting to intimidation and fear (Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Nonviolence and Racial Justice,” 6 February 1957).
We will challenge all policies that embroil black communities in crime and trap black youth in lives of criminality. We must end the policies and culture of mass incarceration, stop the proliferation of guns in our communities, oppose wars here and abroad and transform our values. Our goal is to establish a fuller sense of community, rooted in our collective political and economic control and new strategies to connect, collaborate and create holistic relationships. We are building the beloved community upon new relationships, understandings and redeeming goodwill.