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President Obama, The Price for Using the ’63 Movement is a Peace Conference on Syria

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.

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders is the award-winning host and executive producer of The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally-syndicated TV and radio program that looks at real-life models of shifting power in the arts, economics and politics. Flanders founded the women’s desk at media watch group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and produced and hosted the radio program CounterSpin for a decade. She is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species. Flanders was named Most Valuable Multi-Media Maker of 2018 in The Nation’s Progressive Honor Roll, and was awarded the Izzy Award in 2019 for outstanding achievement in independent media.

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