The recent dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial has inspired some to invoke his name in relation to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Shortly before his arrest in Washington D.C. while protesting outside the Supreme Court, Princeton Professor Cornel West remarked:
“We will not allow this day of Martin Luther King Jr’s memorial to go without somebody going to jail, because Martin King would be here right with us, willing to throw down out of deep love.”
What kind of love would inspire King to “throw down”? In Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community, King wrote:
“Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
The willingness to pursue justice in the spirit and language of love without embarrassment or apology is a characteristic that distinguishes the Martin Luther King Jr.’s of the world.
We live in a time filled with anger. I feel it just as much as the next person. Anger is a powerful fuel. It has the power to motivate, to mobilize, to get people moving. In the short term, it can get us where we think we want to go. However, in the long term anger acts like a fossil fuel. It poisons the atmosphere of public discourse and wrecks the ecology of human relationships. Lasting, sustainable, life-giving change requires a cleaner form of energy. It requires love. This is the lesson taught by Martin Luther King Jr. and exemplified by his life and death.
As a Baha’i, I believe that this is a lesson that must be learned by any movement that hopes to succeed in truly changing the world. The spirit and language of love must move from the margin to the center of discourse and policy regarding issues of economic justice, equity, and reform. In fact, learning to operationalize love in the structures of a new social order is the greatest challenge facing a human race which must either unite or perish.
This kind of love is universal and unconditional. This kind of love acknowledges that the gap between the wealthiest 1% and the 99% must change, while animated by the conviction that the wealthy are also God’s children. ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1912), Head of the Baha’i Faith, once stated:
“Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, colour or shade of political opinion. Heaven will support you while you work in this in-gathering of the scattered peoples of the world beneath the shadow of the almighty tent of unity.”
This is the kind of love President Obama might have had in mind when he made the following observation during his speech at the dedication of the King Memorial:
“If he [King] were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there.”
Obviously this is all easier said than done. If it were easy, people like Dr. King would neither awe nor inspire us. But his life and the lives of countless others like him in every age, among every race, nation, and religion, provide the living proof of what love can do.