MLK Day

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Was Right About More Than Race.

On April 16th, 1963, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr penned the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]”. In that letter, the Reverend discussed how an “appalling silence of the good people,” constricted African-American rights. Not only did Rev. King believe that this inaction allowed for evil to triumph for so long, but he was firmly convinced that it was now “time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”

“More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

He was right, too. Racial injustice was, truly, an unstable bedrock for social norms. From dining establishment to schools to government institutions, African-Americans faced broad-based discrimination. Despite the growing political and moral necessity to democratize civil rights, the transition was not peaceful. There were, sadly, so many violent clashes.

Black Power movements favoring pan-Africanism struggled for freedom against white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the surge of support in the African-American communities to engage in reciprocal violence against whites, history ultimately remembers Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement of non-violent protest that succeeded in bringing equality and freedoms to African-Americans in the United States. The cost was his life, however. Shot on the balcony of the Lorraine hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, Reverend King subsequently died of his wounds. His death cemented his legacy as a civil rights activist and he was only 39 years old at the time. He had lived in a profound way in such a short time.

Despite his humanly faults, Reverend King modeled how activists of large movements ought to behave. In particular, the lessons he taught have application when considering environmental activism. There is an “appalling silence” of so many good people when it comes to waste. While most are aware of the damaging effects of climate change, generally consumer are not eco-conscientious on a daily basis. Say no to the plastic straws!

Plastic, water, and waste consumption all account for a life that is out of balance with nature and capitalism. The true costs of our actions are not reflected in market forces, thereby disallowing markets to act with true efficiency. These revenue-neutral carbon taxes or cap-and-trade policies fail on a larger scale because bearing the consequences is never popular with re-election. Other times, when an environmental policy is implemented it is egregiously flawed like the plastic straw ban in California. There is a middle, moderate ground were lawmakers ought to function by reducing plastic consumption (i.e. straws), but not by threatening to imprison Santa Barbara bartenders.

We can make a difference each day by doing simple things right. Say no to unnecessary plastic, recycle when you can, and be a good steward of the environment.