Moral Blasphemy in the Year of Jubilee
The year of Jubilee has its origins in the Book of Leviticus, 25:10.
And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land and unto all its inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you, when each of you shall return to your property each of you shall return to your family.
An excerpt of this verse is the first line inscribed in the Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof” and was used by 19th century Abolitionists and Suffragists that this promise had not been fulfilled to all the inhabitants.
The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 could be said to be the first Jubilee year of our nation, yet one hundred years later the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would begin his famous “I have a Dream” speech to collect on the unfulfilled promise of that Proclamation.
“Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
This month we have celebrated another Jubilee—commemorating that historic March on Washington and Dr. King’s words. There are many contrary opinions of this man from all political perspectives, but all would agree he was committed to justice by peaceful, non-violent means.
Many people heralded the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president as the fulfillment of that dream. What would Dr. King’s assessment be of his supposed heir, who has ticked off the years of his presidency with the wars he has presided over and initiated: Iraq, Afghanistan, forays into Pakistan, Libya, Bahrain, and now Syria.
From Adbusters, the magazine that dis-spells the sorcery of our Madison Avenue culture, and that called for and inspired the Occupy Wall Street Movement, this quote from its current issue:
“After Obama’s first election in 2008, he was visited by a group of African American women, all leading activists, who wanted to talk with him. When they came out of the meeting and were asked what he was like, they replied, “this man has no moral center.”
Breach of moral character is not unique to this president, from the theft of land and the breaking of every treaty with the original inhabitants, the over one hundred invasions of our neighbor-nations to the south, the atomic destruction of Japan, the pornographic overkill of chemical weapons that wasted the land and peoples of Southeast Asia, the depleted uranium that tipped our missiles in the Middle East, and now the science fiction fact of drones roving the skies of the planet able to target any inhabitant for instant obliteration.
It is not hard for me to imagine Dr. King being alive today to commemorate this event. He would be 84. It is impossible for me to imagine he would be sharing the podium with the one who occupies the White House.
There were protests that Obama not be allowed to speak at this Jubilee commemoration, and celebration of Dr. King who gave his life for peace; yet he did. Then returned to the White House to wage the next war. This is moral blasphemy.
Dr. King himself codified it most eloquently in his prophetic speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967, the exact day one year before he was, perhaps not coincidentally, assassinated:
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. …For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
It is no mistake these words were not included among the fifteen quotes engraved on the King Memorial. The government could not have allowed it.
If Dr. King had the prophetic vision to declare the promise of our collective dream, he also possessed the moral courage to name the nightmare we had inflicted on the peoples of the earth. This connection between the dream and the nightmare—that they are mutually exclusive: there can be no peace at home while we ravage the earth and its inhabitants—is the final moral instruction he gave us.
31 August 2013
Richard Cambridge’s work has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review, Nantucket Journal, Asheville Poetry Review, and other publications. He is the author of a collection of poetry, Pulsa— A Book of Books (Hanover Press), The Cigarette Papers— A Memoir of Addiction (Fern Hill Records) from which he developed a play directed by Patrick Trettenero, and One Shot News—Poetry of Conscience (Earthshine Productions.)
His poetry-theater collaborations include Where the Red Road Runs, a Native American perspective of the European settlement of the Americas; Embargo, portraying the devastating effects of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba; and Presente, giving voice to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the U.S.
He is a recipient of The Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize, and a finalist for a residency at the Fine Arts Work Shop in Provincetown, MA. He was a member of the 1992 Boston Champion Slam Team, and won the Masters Slam at the 1997 National Poetry Slam. In 2003 he received the Cambridge Peace & Justice Award for the contribution of his arts and activism.
He is a Fellow Emeritus at the Black Earth Institute, a think tank that encourages awareness of the arts as a means of promoting a progressive, inclusively spiritual, and environmentally aware society.
He is curator of a monthly Poets’ Theatre series in Somerville’s Arts at the Armory.