Martin Luther King Jr.’s most provocative and dangerous speech — “Remaining Awake Through A Revolution,” delivered on March 31, 1968 — challenged America to stop the injustices of racism, poverty and warfare — including the resources squandered on the “study of war.” He proposed that a Poor People’s Campaign would occupy Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1968 and demand through mass nonviolent civil disobedience and a “soul force,” tangible solutions to right the wrongs perpetrated against the poor, especially the colored poor, and the people oppressed and killed by U.S. armed forces.
However, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated, and the Poor People’s Campaign was snuffed out.
Nearly 50 years later, economic injustice and oppression of the poorest in our country — orchestrated and perpetuated by the nation’s elite as well as racist factions — is still at the root of the turmoil involving the most vulnerable communities, especially those of color, and police forces. Body cameras and training touted by politicians and police commissioners as the solution will not resolve the turmoil and violence. Such Band-aids cannot heal such a large open wound.
Through 1967 and 1968, King deliberately focused his force of conscience on the military-industrial complex and the study of war because he believed the resources wasted on them was the key impediment to achieving opportunity and justice for all Americans.
Nearly 50 years later, the military-industrial complex has committed our nation and our poorest young people to undeclared wars in the Middle East over dwindling petroleum reserves — wars that have continued for more than 15 years with no end in sight. The current U.S. war preparations budget is nearly $700 billion per year.
In his “Remaining Awake” speech, King states, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
If American citizens do not divert the trillions of dollars and countless natural resources squandered on perpetuating the military-industrial complex to create a civil society based on cooperation, not predation, and a steady-state economic system, the social and economic fabric of this nation will tear into a million pieces. Growing populations consuming finite resources unsustainably will lead to depletion, opportunity for advancement will become nonexistent, and those seeking to move beyond mere existence will become ever more desperate.
This same basic premise applies to all nations, especially the economic superpowers China, India, Russia, Japan and Europe.
If this great collapse happens it will permeate the loftiest ivory towers of the super wealthy. Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s children and grandchildren will not escape its effects. No one will be immune. The result, lurking in the shadows, is all nations, especially the world’s superpowers, making war upon one another to attain and defend scant resources, especially fossil fuels, leading up to and into the “collapse,” and it will destroy us all.
Perhaps if King had known in 1968 what we now know about the state of the natural world, he may have concluded the greatest challenge and grandest opportunity to ever face humanity is the ability to create a civilization that attains a point of benign impact or a steady state on the Earth’s ecosystems and biosphere. We can and must use those resources currently wasted on war, the preparation for war, and a self-centered materialistic society to create a civilization that heals our host — the biosphere — instead of killing it as well as all species within.
Will we mark the greatest visionaries of our time — King, John and Robert Kennedy — as footnotes in our history books and with meaningless ceremony, or will we finally enact their dreams of achieving the pinnacle of human consciousness and conscience?
In King’s “Remaining Awake” speech he confronts the nation’s leaders, even those within his own movement, who openly opposed his Poor People’s Campaign plans by declaring, “There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”
— Shannon Wilson of Eugene graduated from Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction in 1984 and is the director of Eco Advocates NW.