Future Hope column, April 8, 2008
By Ted Glick
Over the years I’ve seen and heard more than a few articles and speeches by African American activists critical of the way in which Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in August, 1963 is held up as the high point of his life. Their point: King continued to grow in his political understandings and radicalism after 1963. It is these later years that are rarely highlighted by the corporate media and the rich and powerful, for understandable reasons.
King was no dreamer. He was a revolutionary. He was a person who made connections intellectually and among movements, which is why he was assassinated. Here is what he said on April 4, 1967, one year before he was killed, at Riverside Church in New York City:
“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered. . . A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social better of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just.’”
And yet, Martin King was a dreamer. He had to be to keep going, to stay faithful to the end to the God of justice and liberation he believed in, to be prepared to give his life for his people and for all people.
Dreams are important. We need a vision of a new and different society to keep us positive and effective, and to help empower those who are bogged down in the daily oppressions and insecurities which keep so many of us feeling powerless, unable to contribute to the process of social change.
Over the weekend of April 4-6, 2008, 40 years after Dr. King was assassinated, in the city where it happened, his dream, an updated, 21st century dream, truly was reborn. 1,100 people, 70% people of color, half or more young people under 30, from almost every state, came together for three days of speakers, workshops, music, dancing, singing, crying, listening, solidarity and love at The Dream Reborn national conference.
This conference was the latest, and one of the most significant, in a series of events over the last several years that have catapulted onto the national scene a new, 21st century issue: the climate crisis and the need for an urgent and deep transition to a green economy and society.
The Dream Reborn conference, initiated by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Green For All, was about many things, but at its core was the proposition that there can be no clean energy revolution, no greening of the economy, if it does not put justice at its center. This process of fundamental change must create green jobs that create pathways out of poverty for those who have been shut out and marginalized by the corporate-dominated, fossil fuel economy.
In the words of Green For All founder and president Van Jones, “Dr King—and many others—fought, bled and died to racially integrate a pollution-based economy. Today, America is creating a new, clean and green economy. From the start, it should be designed to have a dignified place for everyone. Dr. King linked the solutions of civil rights, peace and economic opportunity. We must link the solutions of social justice, peace and ecological sanity. Our dream must uplift the people—and the planet, too. This is the calling of our time.”
Major speakers at Dream Reborn plenaries, besides Van Jones, included Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, Evon Peter of Native Movement, Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx, Representative John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Dr. Joseph Lowery, actress Angela Basset, Winona LaDuke of Honor the Earth, Bracken Hendricks of the Apollo Alliance and Dr. Robert Bullard of the Environmental Justice Resource Center.
25 different workshops were held, everything from “What Are Green Collar Jobs?” to “Launching a Local Green-Collar Jobs Initiative,” from “Financing Green-Collar Jobs” to “A Just Transition from Fossil Fuels,” from “Civil Rights, Hip Hop and the New Eco-Equity Movement” to “Weaving Sustainability and Spirituality Into the Work.”
The conference did a lot of “spirituality weaving.” I can’t think of another national progressive conference that had so many people talking about “love,” the importance of love to sustain us, bind us together to face the many challenges and difficulties we will have to overcome. I can’t remember a big national conference where I’ve felt so strongly a connection to my sister and brother conference-goers.
“A feast for the spirit,” is what Adrienne Maree Brown called it in a blog post, Dream Reborn. . . Whose Dream? (http://www.racewire.org/archives/2008/04/dream_rebornwhose_dream.html). “The metaphors and talking points are consistent across the board – pathways out of poverty, lifting all boats, green jobs not jails. . . Great questions emerge for me around what this means about our relationship towards capitalism. There’s a great range of folks here, from grassroots community organizers who hold firm that the long-term solution can’t be reached using tools from a system that requires a glass ceiling, others who feel this is one step that at least shifts resources towards us, and a final group who feels like we need to just learn to use capitalism on our behalf and it will be all good. So if the American Dream is, perhaps ?, a capitalist dream, if we green it could it finally evolve capitalism to a non-oppressive idea that doesn’t require an underclass?”
Genuine mass movements bring things out of people, bring forward our best. Creativity and constructive questioning abounds. Hope blooms and we discover within ourselves energy and strength we didn’t know we had.
More than a dream was reborn in Memphis. A lot of us there feel reborn, revitalized, stronger as a result of this weekend. We are on the move.
Ted Glick is coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council (www.climateemergency.org) and a leader of No War, No Warming, among other involvements. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.