Yesterday, on August 28, fifty years after the historic March on Washington, President Obama participated in celebrations on the Lincoln Memorial steps. At the same time, he’s considering authorizing military action in Syria. I’m sorry Mr. President, but you cannot simultaneously commemorate a nonviolent movement and contemplate military strikes.
The King family charged for use of Dr. King’s words and image on the Memorial so many have visited. If there can be a charge for the use of a man’s words can’t there also be a charge for use of his movement?
What would be a fair price? It can’t be more lofty presidential words. President Obama has given us volumes of words—on closing Guantanamo, ending torture, and respecting the Constitution, even as he’s expanded the war on terror, and let loose another on Americans' rights with NSA spying and wiretaps. There have been no trials for war criminals or war profiteers or banksters, but there have been agonizing trials for whistleblowers, the poor and the weakest amongst us.
In 1963, Dr. King talked about the “fierce urgency of now.” This is your "now", Mr. President. It’s time not to speak, but to act. The price for your commemoration of the ’63 march should be a Peace Conference.
As Patrick Cockburn, who’s covered the region thoughtfully for years puts it today, only a peace conference can do for Syria what airstrikes and armed intervention can not. Only a peace conference can “bring to an end the present bloody stalemate.”
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Air strikes have a habit of leading to intervention, reprisals, more slaughter, more arms races. When the end we seek is “a community at peace with itself,” as King put it, only nonviolence stands a chance of success.
President Obama needs to walk back from his "red line" pledge of action in Syria, regardless of the consequences to his image or himself. Moral courage is called for. But the movement he praised today was built by much costlier personal sacrifice.
Dr. King and Obama have something in common: they both received a Nobel Peace Prize. Of his own, King said “I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man.”
A world as horrified by the prospect of more bloodshed as it is by the blood that has already been shed, wonders what King would do today, and waits upon a president.