By Tera Ertz
In the current climate, I found “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” to be most relevant.
Dr. King’s message resonates more strongly in current events, even though most of the injustice that sparked the Civil Rights movement has been addressed. What I found most compelling about Dr. King’s essay was not the references to issues of race, but his focus on the founding principles of our country. This message of individual liberty, and a nation united under the principles of the Declaration of Independence transcends the time, place, and issues of any given time period. It applied in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. It applied in the 1860 when Lincoln emancipated the slaves, and gave the Gettysburg address. It applied in the 1960 when Dr. King traveled the country to bring about the societal change that would finally grant Negros the same protections as all other citizens of the nation enjoyed. It applies today as we battle for the character of our nation, to determine whether we will continue to be a people united under the principles of freedom, or if we will instead give up our freedom in return for being allowed to abdicate our responsibilities.
The truly interesting part of Dr. King’s letter is the contrast of his step by step plan for effecting the changes he sought, and the other options. He makes note of some of the alternative plans that had been offered with, “One is a force of complacency … The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence.” He goes on to describe that while being labeled an extremist, it is only because he was willing to stand between these two extremes, that we avoided bloodshed in the streets by offering a third course of peaceful but purposeful protest. This brings to mind the tensions in our country today. For many years, our Federal government has been operating outside the boundaries of our Constitution, at odds with the will of the people, and working toward the consolidation of political power at the expense of the individual liberties that have made our country the most powerful force in history. With the recent elections in 2006, and in 2008, this program of undermining the traditional values of the people and the traditional roles of government has vastly accelerated, in turn accelerating government spending. These policies have been around for decades, but they were thrust into the spotlight during the last few years, and there has been a backlash among the citizens.
The Tea Party arose, springing up across the nation in hundreds of small groups, all speaking with one voice for a return to responsible government that promotes individual liberty and equal justice. This group, and it’s millions of members have been labeled extremist. They have been vilified by those on the one side who say, as Dr. King was told, “Wait!” calling too for negotiation. They have been vilified on the other because they refuse to advocate the violent overthrow of government, the violent oppression of those of other races, or the violent silencing of those who do not agree with them. They have been condemned because their “actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence.” They have been criticized for creating “tension.” But when you listen to the speakers for the Tea Party, and there are thousands and thousands of them, instead of the those speaking about them, you here words like these: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …”
The message of freedom resonates in every time. Every age has its oppressors, and its men and women who will stand against such injustice. We as a country have been blessed to have a multitude of shining lights to guide us, among them Dr. King and his blueprint for change.