Dr. King Warned of "Insufficient Funds": America Defaults On U.S. and Global Leadership

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The King Memorial in the nation's capital. Time for a new reimagining to achieve his vision. Photo; Flickr
 
On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr stood on the footsteps of the Lincoln Memorial to loudly proclaim these historic words, among others:  
 
“…So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
 
"It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children….”
 
In dramatizing America’s shameful condition, announcing that the promissory note from America’s founding architects was in default, and reminding the nation of the fierce urgency of now, MLK’s prophetic words were so bold, courageous and visionary that they prompted a system-inspired assassin to take his life on April 4, 1968. He was only 39 years old.
His prophetic words seem even more relevant and urgent than they were five decades ago. Since MLK’s assassination, every electoral season in this great nation has delivered U.S. Administrations-Democratic and Republican- with similar agendas of cooling off and gradualism. The shameful condition of the United States today is dramatized by the current government shut down over a wall and immigration, extreme polarization of America within a volatile mix of hatreds, extreme socio-economic inequalities, a world in disarray, and US default on global leadership. 
 
America’s promissory notes to the majority of the people of color are still returned with “insufficient funds”. However, the socio-economic-political crisis has deepened and widened, encompassing all diverse sections of the American population to varying, yet equally unacceptably high, degrees. Overall, America’s promissory is in default for most American citizens.
To replenish the trust that is the collateral for all valued promissory notes, the United States must confront the problems of race, all forms of discrimination, socio-economic inequalities, runaway capitalism, the national and global dominance of the industrial-military machinery, and the spiritual emptiness that is so pervasive in the age of technological idolatry.
 
Above all, the United States must seek a new generation of founding architects to re-imagine a new nation for the next 300 years. To do so, a new leadership and a new citizenry will have to emerge by consolidating the positive work done by the original founding architects since July 4, 1776, into the fabric of the New America as it contends with global forces of today and tomorrow.
 
MLK’s enduring legacy is that you can imagine a future even, or especially, when young. He saw much farther, wider, and deeper because his spirit toiled and grieved with all people suffering from injustice.
 
In his acceptance to the Nobel Prize on December 10, 1964 (at age 35, MLK was the youngest recipient for the prize), he inspired humanity: “..Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
 
"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow..”
 
MLK was a man of faith, hope, and love. He lived and died for it.
 
May all Americans and humanity be inspired by his faith, hope and love to imagine and build an America and a world where there is peace, prosperity and justice for all. 
 
For a brighter tomorrow, it is fiercely urgent that we move to thoughtful action together, now.
 
 

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