Water Man Spouts

Monday, December 04, 2006


Recently I have had the opportunity to take part in a couple of interesting discussions. The longer of the two has to do with progressive democrats advocating that the Congress move towards the impeachment of the president and/or vice president. There have been a variety of opinions about what that means, and how it might best be accomplished. The other conversation of note was about Gandhi consciousness, and the potential benefit that this holds for those who are hoping to end the Bush-Cheney aggression in Iraq. I suspect that these two topics are very closely related.

The issue of impeachment is gaining the interest of a wide range of people. It’s worth noting that conservative republican radio personality Jay Severen has called for President Bush to either resign, or face impeachment, for his present policy in Iraq. While I think that we should start by impeaching VP Cheney for manipulating the intelligence, and lying to the country about the true reasons he helped force the country to war in Iraq, I find Severen’s position interesting. I recognize, however, that a large number of the members of the Democratic Underground make a far stronger case for impeaching Bush.

At the same time, there are people who pose as having the democratic party’s best interests in mind when they say that it will damage our chances to win the White House if we so much as whisper the word "impeachment" in public. Although the Constitution of the United States clearly calls for impeachment, in terms that even Severen grasps, they warn us that now is not the time, and that there are more important things we need to concentrate on.

This reminds me of a part of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech, given in the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis on April 3, 1968. We know this speech as "I See the Promised Land," and tend to be most familiar with the final few paragraphs., where he predicts his death. But earlier in the presentation, Martin spoke about history, including the Roman Empire.
"Now, what does all this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together, and maintain unity. You know, whenever the Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let’s maintain unity."
Martin was planning his Poor People’s Campaign for the summer. He had been working to combine the civil rights movement with the anti-war movement. And he came to recognize that both racism and war combined to hold a large group of people in poverty. He knew that he was challenging the power structure in America, and he recognized that was dangerous.

"And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. …. Well, I don’t know what will happen now. … Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. ….And He’s allowed me to go up on the mountain. And I’ve looked over. …" That part of Martin’s final speech still haunts America. Indeed, it should. Yet we should not get stuck on his Gethsemane, and fail to move in the direction he spoke of.

On March 31, 1968, Martin had given his last Sunday sermon. He delivered the Passion Sunday sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. That speech was titled, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution." While it is not as famous as his "I Have a Dream," "A Time to Break Silence (Beyond Vietnam)," or "I See the Promised Land" speeches, it remains one of his most important statements.

"Remaining Awake …." speaks to us on many levels. Certainly Martin was speaking of Gandhi consciousness, a level of awareness reflected in his beginning the speak by making reference to the line from the Book of Revelations, Chapter 16: "Behold, I make all things new, former things are passed away." And he compares this awakening to the prolonged sleep described in Washington Irving’s classic, "Rip Van Winkle."

King focused on an important, often forgotten part of the Rip Van Winkle tale. When he went off to sleep, he saw a picture of King George; when he woke up, there was a picture of George Washington. Rip Van Winkle did not recognize the first president, because he had slept through a Great Revolution.

Martin reminded his audience that they were in a time of a Great Revolution, too. He called it a triple revolution, based upon the technology that had made the world a global community; the violence that threatened to destroy the world in a nuclear war; and the human rights campaign that was confronting racism and poverty.

He quoted a John F. Kennedy saying twice: "Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." He also quoted John Donne: "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent – a part of the main." He connected the price of the Vietnam War – the death of each enemy soldier cost the US tax-payers $500,000 – with the inability of the Johnson administration to make real the promise of LBJ’s Great Society.

Great documents always hold that promise of great things to be done, Martin said, but it was up to mankind to accomplish those potentials. And he identified one of the enemies of those who wished to accomplish the good described in the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and other documents. That enemy "is the myth of time. …There are those who often sincerely say …., "Why don’t you slow up? Stop pushing things so fast. Only time can solve the problem. …..

"There is an answer to that myth. It is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I am sorry to say this morning that I am absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists of our nation – the people on the wrong side – have used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. …. Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability."

In "Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Making of a Mind" (Orbis Books; Maryknoll, NY; 1990), author John Ansbro focuses on King’s discussing how he combined the teachings of Jesus with the tactics of Gandhi. He quotes Martin as describing the Montgomery Boycott: "Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the loveethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale." In a sermon at The Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, King said, "Christ showed us the way and Gandhi showed us it could work." And in "Stride Toward Freedom," King wrote about the form of Gandhi consciousness known as "satyagraha" – which means "holding on to Truth," or "Truth-force."

Martin was planning to lead a Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, DC during the summer of 1968. He was prepared to challenge the power of the state, and to demand social justice. It was an intense plan, and it made many people nervous. Even some of Martin’s closest associates were opposed to it. They were even arguing about it during Martin’s last 24 hours on earth.

On Passion Sunday, King told of a journalist asking him, "Don’t you think you’re going to have to stop, now, opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization and people who once respected you, have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?" And King that he was not a "consensus leader," and that he did not take Gallop polls to determine what his beliefs should be. Rather, he looked to be a molder of consensus.

"On some positions," King said, "cowardice asks the question, is it expediant? And then expedience comes along and asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? Conscience asks the question – is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor polite, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. … And I submit that nothing will get done until people of good will put their bodies and their souls in motion."

Thirty-eight years later, we are facing many of the same problems that Martin confronted then. We have an immoral war in a distant land that we need to stop. It is keeping this country from becoming a Great Society, and not only because of the financial investments the Bush-Cheney administration has made. We need to be fully awake and fully aware of these connections.

King was prepared to shut Washington down to protest this nation’s policies. Those of us who are advocating that Congress begin the investigations that should lead to impeachment are not looking to shut anything but executive corruption down. In fact, we are asking Americans to take the actions needed to make sure that Washington DC does work properly. We want to bring life to those great documents. We invite you to join us.

Please write to Reps. Waxman and Conyers this week, and request that they investigate the lies that brought this nation to war in Iraq.


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