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Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed on Freedom

We don’t need a commemoration of the murder of Dr. King, we need a resurrection of his movement.

"He would be critiquing an immoral economy which spends trillions on war and nuclear weapons but can’t find the resources to fund health and education— addiction treatment, health care for pregnant women, pre-kindergarten programs, and our public schools, parks, and libraries." (Photo: CWA/Local 7076)

"He would be critiquing an immoral economy which spends trillions on war and nuclear weapons but can’t find the resources to fund health and education— addiction treatment, health care for pregnant women, pre-kindergarten programs, and our public schools, parks, and libraries." (Photo: CWA/Local 7076)

My patient, a pregnant young woman, lay in her hospital bed breathing quickly and moaning. For years she had suffered from mental illness and addiction, and now was desperately ill with MRSA endocarditis, a bacterial infection of her heart.  

As I examined her, listening with my stethoscope, I wondered if she and her baby would survive. 

American society is desperately ill. How else can we consider the sickness of our nation’s spirit, where people would rather sell guns than provide health care and education to our children?

Every day in my clinical practice I see individuals suffering from the ravages of poverty—diseases like endocarditis, depression, addiction to opioids, HIV, tuberculosis, and diabetes.

But these illnesses do not occur in isolation. The health of people is directly connected to the health of our society. 

And American society is desperately ill. How else can we consider the sickness of our nation’s spirit, where people would rather sell guns than provide health care and education to our children?

As a practicing physician with a focus on health of the poor, the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is particularly poignant for me.

Dr. King was assassinated just as he was building a fusion movement, a Poor People’s Campaign and a new “Freedom Church of the Poor.” The movement was making connections between militarism, racism, and economic exploitation, and Dr. King was calling for a revolution against the structures that kept people in poverty.

If Dr. King were alive today, a half-century later, the question is what he would be saying and doing.

He would be critiquing an immoral economy which spends trillions on war and nuclear weapons but can’t find the resources to fund health and education— addiction treatment, health care for pregnant women, pre-kindergarten programs, and our public schools, parks, and libraries.

In my opinion, he would be decrying the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which will threaten our children, as government spending for Medicaid and food stamps are slashed.  

He would be critiquing an immoral economy which spends trillions on war and nuclear weapons but can’t find the resources to fund health and education— addiction treatment, health care for pregnant women, pre-kindergarten programs, and our public schools, parks, and libraries.

A half-century later, Dr. King would be leading the new Poor People’s Campaign—a National Call for a Moral Revival. He would be demanding a change in course, that politicians uphold the oath that they have taken to represent us on a moral agenda that lifts up the common good. And he would be leading nonviolent civil disobedience to insist that politicians develop serious proposals to address such an agenda.

If Dr. King were alive, he would also be engaging youth— who are already energized by the March for Our Lives— in the Poor People’s Campaign. 

Just as the children of Birmingham mobilized to protest Bull Connor and his fire hoses and police dogs, America’s children are waking up and fighting for their survival in 2018.

But we don’t need a commemoration of the murder of Dr. King, we need a resurrection of his movement. Because shifting the moral narrative is a cultural task, we are creating new ways of helping people tell their stories, through music and the arts. To engage youth—and everyone— the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign has created a choir. 

We will be singing this Saturday morning at 10 AM at a Mass Meeting in Quincy, Massachusetts. Saturday is a day of community building, sharing, and organizing, and we hope people who live in New England will join us.  

Why am I passionate about the Poor People’s Campaign?  

One weekday around 6:30 AM, my 3-year-old son sat on our living room floor playing with toy trucks before getting ready to go to preschool. 

I put down my coffee cup and sang, “Woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom. Woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on,” and he echoed, “freedom.”

“Woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom, Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah,” we sang together, call and response, and he smiled. 

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Philip Lederer MD

Philip Lederer

Philip Lederer MD is an infectious diseases doctor, former CDC disease detective, writer, fiddler/violinist, runner, and Dad.

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