After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his powerful anti-war speech “Beyond Vietnam” on April 4, 1967, he was criticized by politicians, the media and even by some fellow civil-rights campaigners. He rose to the occasion with his following response and, at the same time, delivered an important lesson for us all:

“One day, a young newsman came to me and said: ‘Dr. King, 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.’ I looked at him and I had to say, ‘Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I’ve not taken a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion.’ Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then experience 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, but must do it because conscience says it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come together with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘We ain’t goin’ study war no more.’ This is the challenge facing modern man.

“Let me close by saying that we have difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace, but I will not yield to a politic of despair.”

Dr. King recognized our terrible situation in this age of nuclear weapons. He said: “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament … may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.”

Given these known risks associated with nuclear war, it’s insane that the political leadership of both Democratic and Republican Parties still support: continuing the U.S. involvement in Syria and Afghanistan, and the unnecessary provocations of Russia and China.

Please join in honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. from 10 a.m. until noon Jan. 21 at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 1419 Pine St., Boulder. Find more details at rmpjc.org.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.

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