What a boon that we have Martin Luther King Day.
2017 was a depressing year for many Americans who care about our public life. And New Year’s Day 2018 did not bring with it even a grain of hope that the coming year will be better in that regard.
But a mere two weeks into 2018, we get to celebrate Martin Luther King, and for a few hours to enjoy a reset on hope and vision, on high ideals and moral clarity.
I joined a crowd of a couple of thousand in front of the Cambridge Town Hall yesterday afternoon, where the temperature was 18 degrees Fahrenheit and snowflakes bounced in the wind, to hear Senator Elizabeth Warren call President Trump out for his most recent expressions of racism, and call upon the assembled group to fight the way a previous generation did in the 1960s to ensure that racial and economic justice will roll down. Then we were all put to work to do three hours of service to help the needy in Cambridge.
Earlier, at a Martin Luther King Day breakfast in Boston, assembled politicians were asked what was their favorite King quotation. Warren and several others responded with the theme of King’s 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York where he publicly announced his opposition to the Vietnam War.
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
This week we will pass the one year mark of President Trump’s dark and angry inaugural address and of the Women’s March, which brought a coalition of many, if by no means all, together to let off steam and express our rejection of Donald Trump’s agenda. Looking back at all that, I recall that those events were quickly followed by the furore over President Trump’s attempts to cancel visas to the US for the next 90 days, and we began to see judges and journalists seizing every chance they could to hold the new president’s feet to the fire. Their admirable work has continued.
But for many of us who do not have obvious means by which to fight for the values we see eroding in the present climate, the emerging situation this time last year had an effect that I didn’t initially expect. We found we wanted to claim the space of our own lives and give none of it to our president. People who used to be news junkies stopped watching the TV news, refused to speak the name of the president, and sidelined those who handily gravitated to the next Trump joke. We chose to lie low.
Now that a year has passed, now that we have checked in with our brother Martin, who continues to admonish us across the decades that silence is betrayal, it seems as if it is right to lie low no longer.
It is time to recognize that Pope Francis’s words in his New Year’s Eve homily are right on target – that the ordinary things we do in life, and the way we go about doing them, DO make a difference because they contribute to the establishment and protection of norms. And the past year has told us nothing if it hasn’t told us how quickly hard-won norms unravel.
So watch this space, not because it offers new or startling insights about current American politics, but because it is a place to honor the many who are out there setting norms for a better future.