Why I'm Running For Lt. Governor of New York -- Jumaane Williams' MLK Speech

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[Dr. King Day Speech]

Good morning.

I want to thank Salem Missionary Baptist Church and Pastor Dr. James A. Thornton for inviting me to speak today and for all the work that the Church does.

I want to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who is a personal hero of mine and has been for quite some time.

Since I was young, I've admired Dr. King and the stances that he took. The way he stood up for people who didn't feel they had a voice. The way he stood up for people who didn't feel they were empowered. The way he stood up and chose non-violence as a path. I often believe that use of non-violence as a strategy exhibits even more strength.

Realizing the times he lived in and using non-violent protest as a strategic tactic to his advantage was an amazing thing. I've been asked to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and to me that means do what you can with what you have with where you are. Sustaining that strength with lessons from God and the Bible are also things that I believe are extremely noteworthy.

These days however it disturbs me to see that Dr. King's legacy is often sanitized and misrepresented by people who want to pick and choose little pieces that they think will serve their own agenda. Dr. King was an extraordinary leader who opposed violence but that does not mean he was consigned to be docile. His opposition to violence had nothing to do with his fierce advocacy at every turn.

To be clear, Dr. King was a disruptive righteous agitator. He was a moral revolutionary. Those that don't believe in the cause that you're fighting for, often try to attack the tactics that you're using. But it is actually the cause that didn't believe in to begin with.

There are many people who believe they want change but they don't want to do the work. They celebrate the heroes of the past and recall their words, but don't understand the meaning nor the context in which those words came about. They remember the dream but choose not to remember the fight it took to make the dream a reality. They forget the hoses that were used on those non-violent protestors. Forgetting that these dreams were often given birth inside of a jail cell.

People use misrepresentation to attack modern-day acts of protest and dissent. Let us be clear- it's not about how you dissent that bothers some people; it's the fact that you dissent at all that any many people are opposed to.

Every generation looks back on the previous generation with a different set of eyes. They mistakenly believe that if they were there during those moments of protest, they would have the fortitude to stand with the movement. They believe if they were there, they would have the courage to move forth without fear. I always make sure I use the word courage because I don't tell people not to be afraid. The most high doesn't give you the spirit of fear, but we are human. However the most high has provided us courage to move through that fear. But right now we need the strength of the moment.

The legacy of Dr. King is to keep the movement moving forward. So if you feel you would have been with the movement then, then you should be here now standing up with the people. Standing up with anyone who feels disenfranchised- with Blacks to Latinos to LGBTGNC. Hope I didn't lose Salem when I say LGBTGNC- because the Bible I read says love your neighbor as you love yourself. It didn't have an except after that. And if it has an exception, then you're probably reading the wrong bible.

Whether it is with the Me-Too movement, we should be with all of those who are standing up to have their voices heard. From Dr. King to Colin Kaepernick- all of these issues have been discussed before. The issue of who is a patriot and who isn't has been discussed before. But remember that all of those who have been on the morally right side of dissent and protest have won these arguments every single time. And they will win it again. Even with an orange crazy person in the White House.

At 12 Noon on Inauguration Day last year, I said I want to be engaged in civil disobedience and I was arrested at Trump Tower as the President was sworn in. I want to thank my colleagues State Sen. Marisol Alcantara, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Pastor Gil Monrose and others who joined me in getting arrested. However many others disagreed with me- they thought we should wait and see what the new President does or pick another way to show our dissent.

A few days later those same people celebrated Dr. King's legacy. It is interesting that those who celebrate his fierce urgency of now will tell me not to do what I need to do to push the agenda forward.

A few days later the Women's March occurred and blew me away. A world-wide response that was amazing. But I shouldn't be amazed because if the truth be told all if these movements have succeeded due to the power of women while men go to the front to take all the credit

I'm amazed that there are those who want to pretend that Colin Kaepernick is different from Muhammad Ali. People celebrate the Greatest now but don't remember when they stripped his title and wouldn't allow him to fight. People questioned his patriotism. I'm always amazed when people cannot connect history with what is happening today.

If you don't understand why Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and myself were arrested trying to prevent the immoral deportation of Ravi Ragbir, then this Day may not be for you.

If you don't understand the Me-Too movement, then this Day may not be for you.

If you don't understand the protests of today, then I suggest you keep the name of Martin Luther King Jr. from your lips. We will not allow you to sanitize who he was. To dismiss the revolutionary aspect of his dissension from the status quo. You cannot say you support Dr. King but want the status quo to continue.

I have to say my arrest a few days ago was the closest thing I've felt to the civil rights movement. As we kept returning to block the path of that van deporting Ravi Ragbir- you can't call it a emergency vehicle because its sirens and lights weren't being used -we were manhandled and thrown across the street. We kept coming back because it was the morally right thing to do. It is important as we move forward to talk about what is the morally right thing to do.

We did this because if you stand up, the world will take notice. If you yell, the world will listen. If you want to know the real legacy of Dr. King, question and compel the world to answer. And I know that many of us have a lot of questions. Why were we talking about justice in the 1960s the same way we are doing in 2018? Why are we talking about jobs for youth in 2018 the same way we were in the 1960s? Why are we talking about the abuses of policing now the same way we were then?

Those are questions that people have to answer.

When City commissioners would appear before me at City Council hearings, I often would ask them if they believed that young Black and Latino men were born uneducable with a genetic pre-disposition to crime. Of course they would say no- I'm not sure everyone believed that but that is a discussion for another day. So let's assume that you don't believe that- then we have to admit there is a structural problem that is causing our children to move in a certain way.

We have to acknowledge that the system is operating as it is designed to do. That the system isn't broken; it needs to be replaced. Dr. King was talking about this in the 60's and trying to replace that system. We are trying to do the same thing now in 2018. What people don't realize is how much energy it takes to move the needle. You don't move the needle by asking politely or by writing a letter to those in power and saying please.

You move the needle with moral disruption to the status quo that is unjust.

I have to always recognize that we've made progress since Dr. King's lifetime. Of course, we have some nice water fountains that work; we don't see people hanging from trees as much; but I'm always careful in recognizing the progress we've made because that could be used to legitimize the craziness that should never have been legitimized in the first place.

There is real power in protest, particularly mixed with government action. We are living in a time when it could not be more essential to recognize and exercise those powers. Government does not move unless we make them. They respond to protest. They respond to the issues we bring alive by being in those streets. I understand because I'm in the halls of government where I see my colleagues respond.

I am a member of theatre group called the Theater of War which has a great slogan- we have to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. My job inside the halls of government is to make sure that we move on what people are asking us to do that is morally correct. My job on the inside is not to test the political winds but to do what is morally right.

Dr. King once said, "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but rather a molder of consensus." And I quote that because we often hear people saying they are a builder or molder of consensus. What they are really saying is that they do not have the courage to do what is the morally right thing to do. Dr. King was not searching for consensus; he was building and molding using the hard work it takes to find the consensus to do the morally correct and just.

We must follow his example and find the courage to take the risk that many people don't want to provide but seem to want to celebrate. We need leaders who will forcefully advocate no matter the political winds. I want to be the kind of leader who does not test the political winds. I want to be the type of leader who is creating the wind that people are responding to.

Dr. King did that many times. Even as he died fighting for the Poor People's Campaign and for the rights of sanitation workers. Even when people said his tactics wouldn't work then. Even as he fought an unpopular war in Vietnam. Many people don't remember that. He said the ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort & convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. Dr. King not only confronted controversy but was in the center of it. In 1966, some polls showed he had a 32% approval rating. That came from some in his own community. But he steadfastly moved forward with his unpopular opposition of that war and he was proven correct.

We now live in a time of challenge and controversy. Its even more important now to see where all of our leaders stand. People know that when there is something happening, I want to be on the ground to lend my voice. I've never been a stranger to challenge or to controversy. Look for me in the whirlwind and I'll be there, to quote Marcus Garvey.

We need people in government to continue to push forward for progress on numerous issues across our state. On the issue of homelessness in New York City and housing in Rochester. Gun violence in Brooklyn and Syracuse. The opioid crisis in Staten Island and Cortland. These issues are not unique to just one area.

We also need diversity in government. To have a government that represents all the people. If you look at who represents us in government from the federal level on down- the President, Vice President, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Comptroller, Mayor, City Comptroller and Speaker of the City Council-they all have one thing in common.

That lack of diversity means many of us are not represented in the highest offices of government in the State of New York.

Some ask what is the legacy of Dr. King- I believe it is doing what you can with what you have with where you are. If you can't fly, he said, then run. If you can't run, then walk. If you can't walk, then crawl. But with whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. That is the legacy of Dr. King that we have to take away from today. How are we going to move forward?

I know we can do this- not necessarily just because of the dream of Dr. King, but because I am the descendant of a slave who dreamt of freedom. I can picture his old hands moving through time to grab my face and say "I dreamed of you". We have to take our hands and move it forward for the next generation. To say to them "I see you and dream of a better world for you." To dream of a better world where these issues are resolved. We have to deliver that to them.

And I know that we have the strength to do that. Where does it come from? From a woman who lost her son to gun violence perpetrated by someone who looked like her son or someone wearing blue who was scared of her son. The pain looks painfully the same. Where does she find the strength? It comes from her loved ones who are making her push forward. It comes from the ancestors that push us.

Where do we find the strength? It comes from the legacy of people like Martin, Malcolm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sophie Scholl from the White Rose, Viola Liuzzo, Harvey Milk, Steven Biko, Nelson Mandela, Yuri Kochiyama and Patrice Lumumba.

It's that legacy where you find the strength. It's the pain that we feel our entire lives. That led me to Salem today and realize that I'm not alone. Where do find the strength? It's not me, but from the God that I serve and Psalm 37:25 that says "I've never seen the righteous betrayed or the young people not have bread". From James 2:14-26 that says "faith without works is death".

Where do we find the strength? It's not me- that's where we become confused. It is us; it's not I, it is we. It is all the people gathered here today. From Black women in Alabama to the people in Salem today. That's where the strength comes from. We have to keep moving forward. If you can't fly, then run. If you cannot run, your job is to walk. If you cannot walk, your job is to crawl to that moral arc of justice. And on that last day when the most high calls you, in you last gesture point the way for the next generation to move forward on that arc. And as they walk by you, the last thing you hear is "Good job. Thank you. I got it from here."

Do what you can with what you have wherever you are. That is the legacy of Dr. King.

I take this very seriously. I try to do the best I can in the New York City Council and I feel it is time to do even more. So I was excited when Salem invited me to speak today and I thought it was fitting that I announce that I'm moving forward.

Today I'm announcing that I'm forming an exploratory committee towards the possibility of running for the office of Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York.

I've seen elected officials who quote Dr. King but don't move in his movements, that don't have his courage. One of the most common acts of protest is marching. Dr. King led marches in Chicago, Selma and D.C. Marching shows our strength when many are united for a common purpose and our resolve to press on. To blaze a trail where we could not previously go but we know we have to go.

The people together will never be divided. The people together marching for what we hold dear and know is right. Join me on this path of progress in the march for justice. For resources we need access to from a system that purports to keep us safe. For affordable housing and healthcare. For a New York and a nation that holds true to its promise of progress and freedom and equity.

Join me on this path forward on this Dr. King Day. We will win this fight. We will beat the crazy orange man in the White House. We will move forward to the end and find the bottom of that arc of justice. We will be there.

Thank you very much.

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