“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution“ was the title of the commencement address Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, delivered at Oberlin College in 1965.
“There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in our world today.”
Unfortunately, those words still seem relevant today. Why do they need to be said today? Why did the revolution of that time fail to take hold? The materialism, militarism, and racism that Dr. King warned about, have expanded further in most ways since his time.
And there, I now realize, is the reason the revolution stalled. Most of us chose the comforts of materialism instead. We chose personal automobiles, and our own, large homes, for which we polluted the earth, air and water, and which we went to war to obtain the oil needed for them. The damage from that is beginning to become increasingly evident: giant areas of drought, poisoned waters, famine causing mass migration of people, extinction of species, algae blooms, melting glaciers and rising seas, more frequent, more severe extreme weather.
De facto segregation made it easier to accept the glaring inequalities of wages, professional advancement, health, housing, social, and educational opportunities, etc. Materialism contributes a great deal to racism even after those times of physical enslavement for free labor.
We are in a time when the voracious appetite of our materialistic society can no longer be fed, as we run out of the resources needed to maintain production. A revolution is being forced upon us, because rampant materialism can no longer keep up with demand for things wanted but not needed, and the consequences to the environment and our communities can no longer be hidden, although they usually continue to be ignored.
As always, those invested in the status quo will struggle mightily to keep things the way they are, which will only lead to conflict, oppression, and war.
But we have the chance to recognize the opportunities for changes that will improve all of our lives. A great many are struggling with the emptiness of materialism, and the moral questions of privilege.
As Charles Eisenstein has written, “at Standing Rock, something different is possible. It is not because the Dakota Sioux have finally acquired more guns or money than the pro-pipeline forces. It is because we are ready collectively for a change of heart.”
As what we are familiar with unravels, we have to choose. Will we be resigned to trying to adapt to the changes as best we can, or will we choose to develop the opportunities we can discover if we look for them?
What is your vision of the future? What would you like to see for your children. Now is the time to work to make that happen. Millions are looking for guidance, wondering where to look for answers, who they can trust. Now is the time people of faith can teach how to build a better world for us all. As Rev. William Barber recently wrote, “Quakers its time to get back into the public square.” Its time for people of all faiths and good will to get back into the public square, to show the way forward.
Dr. King’s commencement address continues:
“There is another way – a way as old as the insights of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mohandas K. Gandhi. For it is possible to stand up against an unjust system with all of your might, with all of your body, with all of your soul, and yet not stoop to hatred and violence. Something about this approach disarms the opponent. It exposes his moral defenses, weakens his morale, and at the same time, works on his conscience. He doesn’t know how to handle it. So it is my great hope that, as we struggle for racial justice, we will follow that philosophy and method of non-violent resistance, realizing that this is the approach that can bring about that better day of racial justice for everyone.”
“But we shall not have the courage, the insight, to deal with such matters unless we are prepared to undergo a mental and spiritual change. It is not enough to say we must not wage war. We must love peace and sacrifice for it. We must fix our visions not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but upon the positive affirmation of peace.”