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  • Writer's pictureMetta

MLK Day

I moved the garbage and recycling bins to the curb.

But Monday is Martin Luther King day.

I double-checked, the garbage pick up schedule was not changed even though it would be MLK day.


This didn’t feel right.


I’ve been reading the book “Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth-Honoring Faiths” by Melanie L. Harris. And through this book I started learning more about what Dr. Martin Luther King was committed to shortly before his assassination. He and his community organizers like Bernard Rustin had been supporting the Memphis sanitation workers. I knew this was also the start of the Poor People’s Campaign. But I hadn’t understood what the workers were facing.


They were facing a horrific wall of structural and environmental racism and violence. Racism, suppression, and harm through environmental exposures, damage to dignity. Health risks as a result of these exposures. Worker suppression through threats of violence. What happened to these human beings is an example overall of structural violence which is “the physical, psychological, spiritual harm that certain groups of people experience as the result of unequal distribution of power and privilege” (Definition by Moe-Lobeda)


Memphis had a long tradition of neglect and abuse of their Black sanitation workers. Two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. They had climbed into the back to get out of the rain. The truck event was horrific enough, but there are many more stories that I had not known about before describing the deplorable and dangerous conditions these workers were facing. This article indicated that sanitation workers earned wages so low that many were on welfare and relied on food stamps to take care of their families. White bosses carrying guns made people work for 12 or 14 hours and only paid for eight.


Human and Earth justice should be paramount and are civil rights. When we take care of those of us with the most diminished voices, those in the face of the most structural violence and harm, everyone benefits. When we all band together against injustice, and across injustices, we are many.

Humanity will not survive if we don’t change direction. Dr. King was leading a movement against racism, structural violence, environmental racism, and the crushing impact of poverty. He and the other organizers saw how it was all connected.


Dr. King said the following in his speech “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” to striking sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee (if you haven’t listened to the whole thing, go there right now). The speech gives me chills, because it is so real and true. It was true then, and it’s true now. I felt like he was speaking to this moment:


“Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today. And also, in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done and done in a hurry to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty; their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed.“ ….


“Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”


Dangerous unselfishness. Those words.


I hear the Buddha speaking simultaneously about uprooting greed, hate and delusion [AN 6.39]:


Greed doesn’t give rise to contentment. Rather, greed just gives rise to greed. Hate doesn’t give rise to love. Rather, hate just gives rise to hate. Delusion doesn’t give rise to understanding. Rather, delusion just gives rise to delusion...


Contentment doesn’t give rise to greed. Rather, contentment just gives rise to contentment. Love doesn’t give rise to hate. Rather, love just gives rise to love. Understanding doesn’t give rise to delusion. Rather, understanding just gives rise to understanding.


At the end of Dr. King’s speech are these classic words. I read over these words again, with the context of what I have learned. Feeling very much where we are at this very moment in the United States. At this very moment in the midst of a pandemic, Climate Chaos, White Supremacy, and Injustice woven throughout. Dr. King had a vision, he saw something that was possible.


“Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”


I believe the response to the Climate Change emergency must be grounded in the voices of those impacted the most. It must also be grounded, with acknowledgment and respect, in the knowledge of those that still have the deep indigenous wisdom of the land. It must be grounded in Environmental Justice and Climate Justice. If our collective response does not have this grounding, we will use the wrong medicine. It can’t be just one direction, one angle, one focus either - the response needs to be multi-factorial. The wisdom is here, the knowledge, in how to respond. The knowledge of what happens if we don’t act is present. The Earth deserves justice and healing, Gia and all beings have been suffering for so long - it’s not only about climate change, it is about stewardship of the land and moving away from destructive uses of the Earth and ongoing pollution. It's about healing and taking care of each other. It is about dangerous unselfishness.


Thank you Dr. King.

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