Dear Dr. King,
Last weekend’s tragic events in Tucson, Arizona, just few days before the National Holiday commemorating your work and achievements reminded me of the power of words. So I went back and reread Letters from a Birmingham Jail and your speech, “I Have a Dream.”
I realized that your work to achieve change through non-violent means had a lot to do with boycotts, marches, and sit-ins. But there was much more. It also had everything to do with tone, manner, and words.
Many analysts and the politicians who commented on the horrible tragedy in Tucson that took the lives of six people and injured 14 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were quick to blame the current political climate in the United States for encouraging to such violence. We are all tempted to blame someone or one side for engaging in the kind of overheated rhetoric that leads deranged people, or potential plotters, to use violent means for their ends. Unfortunately, there are no such simple answers.
Gun control, greater security for elected officials, and the shunning of overheated rhetoric have become the main subjects of the post-Arizona discourse. In truth, we should all address these issues—and not just in America. While my country, Canada, hasn’t seen much in the way of political violence, no society is immune to it. What we need, Dr.King, is to reflect on the legacy you left us and understand that you lead the most successful social and political revolution of my day, and you did it by employing non-violence and the power of words. In “Letters,” you told us, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In “I Have a Dream,” you expressed the hope that all should be judged “by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.” Powerful words that should still guide us.
January 12, 2011
ADDENDUM: Last night’s address by President Obama struck a unifying tone very much in the spirit of Dr. King. The current political class, including the Republican leadership, seems to be on the same page as Obama in recent days, with some minor exceptions. In deference to the current lowering of the volume and especially for the respect of the victims and their families, it is so much more constructive to seize this moment for introspection and reflexion. There is a lesson for all, even beyond the borders of the United States.
[John Parisella is currently serving as Quebec’s Delegate-General in New York City.]