This past week’s presidential inauguration on Martin Luther King Day finds us as a nation and people at a remarkable crossroads. Before us we have the same daunting issues we have faced for years yet there is something different. There is a developing shift in our consciousness and responsibility. We are witnessing a new awareness of the challenges and necessity of addressing them. What is needed is the collective will and steadfastness of effort to realize the opportunities that are upon us.
This year commemorates profound social events in history, from the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation to Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech 50 years ago. That dream and challenge is alive and vital today, and recent events have made the need to realize it ever more apparent. It is not enough to simply pay homage and then move on. Our work is before us and demands action.
From Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook, the challenges we face loom large. They range from climate change, gun control, immigration reform, to mass incarceration, war and social and environmental justice. On our shared planet, there is a demand for environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfillment. We must recognize that these issues are all connected. Not one can be had without the others. The tipping point on these issues is at hand.
Daily we witness the devastating effects of climate change, from year over year record temperatures with 2012 being the warmest year on record for the lower 48 U.S. states. We see the catastrophic global storms and record melting of the Artic Sea ice. People are making the connection of extreme weather and climate change. The storms affect everyone though poor and underdeveloped communities and civilizations feel a disproportionate brunt with resultant environmental injustice.
Gun violence is a public health threat and national disgrace. Averaging 87 gun related deaths per day the United States saw over 30,000 of our citizens die last year. Gun related deaths are the leading cause of death among inner city black children and teens. This ‘war’ rages on everyday right here on our soil. Deaths from these weapons of mass destruction will soon overtake annual auto fatalities. This public health threat has gone on for far too long. As with any public health threat, prevention is key. A sad and paradoxical outcome of the Sandy Hook shootings and the loss of innocent white school children and teachers is that previous congressional adversaries to gun control are starting to evolve recognizing that there is no “safe” population and are seeing the need for some sensible control of our current insane gun policy.
Immigration reform has long been ignored or used as political issue. Yet immigration is a reality in our society and how we respond will address social and economic justice. Our economy is dependent on the labor of these “non-recognized” people who we so often overlook and treat as non-entities. This is a complex and international issue that demands compassion and leadership to resolve.
Mass incarceration that flows from the “War on Drugs” finds 2.3 million people in the U.S. behind bars. With 5% of the world’s population the U.S. has 25% of the worlds incarcerated making the U.S. the “incarceration nation”. Fifty percent of this population is men of color and has been referred to as the new “Jim Crow”. This institutionalized racism tears apart the social fabric of our communities.
Finally as the U.S. prepares to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan it is imperative upon us to look closely to addressing and eliminating the root causes of war. All war has the possibility of going nuclear either by intent or mistake. In a world that remains wired for instantaneous nuclear annihilation stemming from outmoded cold war thinking the time at long last has come to make real progress in abolishing these weapons. The cost of war and the military industrial complex to our society and world in lives, treasure and opportunity is incomprehensible. The entire war economy demands a complete review as we face the finite fragile future of our planet.
With a majority of U.S. citizens supporting these initiatives, the time for action is now.
How we deal with these and so many issues speaks volumes to who we are as a nation. The president spoke of many of these issues in his inaugural address. However he can not resolve these issues alone. It is not enough for us as citizens to say we are in favor of something and then sit back and expect someone else to make it happen. How often do we hear or express that “they” didn’t get the job done. In reality “they” is us! In our democracy, we the people must persevere and demand that our elected officials abide by the peoples will. We must not give up until the result we demand is realized. Let us move forward together in this renewed season of opportunity. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”