Sanders Says MLK's Courage Will Be Necessary for Fight Ahead
The civil rights leader 'understood that real change never takes place from the top on down, but only takes place when millions of people stand up and fight for justice'
Speaking at the same Atlanta church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday heralded the long term vision of the civil rights leader and said that it is "necessary for us to bring his spirit and courage into 2017."
"The great strength of Dr. King," Sanders said, addressing a standing room crowd from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, "was that he understood that real change never takes place from the top on down, but only takes place when millions of people stand up and fight for justice."
"And today, we are in a pivotal moment in American history," he continued, in a veiled reference to the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. "And never before have we got to bring together all our people—black and white, and Latino, and Native American, and Asian American, gay and straight, born in this country, coming from another country—our job is to stand together and to create that community of love that Dr. King fought and died for."
Pointing to King's later efforts organizing against the Vietnam War and poverty in the United States, Sanders said it was these unpopular fights that showed the deep "courage" of King.
"Let us not forget for a moment where Dr. King was when he was assassinated," Sanders said. "He was standing up with exploited workers in Memphis, Tennessee...he was working on a Poor People's March."
King, Sanders continued, was saying at that time, "In this... country of incredible wealth, why do we have so many people living in poverty? In this country that is spending so much on the military, why do so many not have healthcare or basic education?"
"That was then and here we are now," Sanders continued.
"I know if Dr. King were here today, he would be asking, 'How could it happen in the wealthiest country in the history of the world we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth?' And he would join us in saying that maybe we should be investing in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration," he observed.
Taking a swipe at those officials, including the incoming president, who claimed to recognize King on the day of his birth while embracing policies antithetical to his vision, Sanders said, "while it is easy for politicians to be saying nice words...they are suppressing the vote, making it harder for black people and poor people to participate in our democracy."
"So I say to politicians all across the country," he added to wide applause, "if you honestly believe in what Dr. King stood for, stop the voter suppression, allow all people to participate in the political process."
Watch the full speech below:
Sanders was not the only one who spoke to the need to incorporate King's legacy into the modern fight for economic and social justice. King's good friend and fellow civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) urged young people in Florida to follow "the way of love" by taking action in the face of things that are "not right."
"It is the power of the way of peace, the way of love," said Lewis, whose recent criticism of Trump prompted the incoming president to repeatedly insult the civil rights leader.
"As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Hate is too heavy a burden to bear,'" Lewis continued, never directly mentioning the president-elect. "You must never, ever hate. The way of love is a better way. The way of peace is a better way."
Also, addressing a crowd in front of the MLK memorial near Washington, D.C.'s National Mall on Saturday, Sanders' fellow progressive champion and ally, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, said, "We may not have gotten here on the same ship but we are in the same boat now. We have been here before."
"Guess what sisters and brothers," Turner continued, "we can't have a testimony without a test. And we are being tested right now as for whether we or not we've got courage enough, hope enough, fight enough, love enough to do what is necessary."