His last sermon, on the evening before he was shot down outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offered a conclusion that serves well as starting point for 2018. After declaring that America was sick in 1968, facing troubling times, King made this resolution:
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school—be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Nothing would be more tragic than to turn back now, because we have seen the real possibility that, in the middle of this dark night of the American story, a Third Reconstruction is possible. “We made the world we are living in,” James Baldwin said, “and we have to make it over.” Imperfect though we are, we can do this work together in 2018 and move forward toward the more perfect union of our common creed.
Fifty years after Dr. King and many others launched a Poor People’s Campaign to demand a Marshall Plan for America’s poor, inequality in our nation has reached extremes we have not seen since the Gilded Age. As the Dow climbs and the wealthiest Americans get a massive tax break, 15 million more Americans are poor today than in 1968. In the same time period, the rate of extreme poverty has nearly doubled. Because of the systemic racism of voter suppression, which has been implemented in 23 of the nation’s poorest states since 2010, our political system is held captive by extremists who deny workers health care and a living wage, undermine the equal-protection clause of the constitution, attack public education, and encourage poor white people to blame people of color and immigrants for their problems. All the while, more and more of our collective resources are dedicated to a war without end.
-Rev. Dr. Barber