Today, the country commemorates the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. More than ever, America desperately needs his healing and insightful words to position us in the direction of tolerance, understanding, and respect for all people.
Dr. King understood: Everything is interconnected. Those in the environmental justice space can point to him as a groundbreaker in recognizing how the inequity between the living circumstances of African-Americans and their white counterparts resulted in an impact on their health. (It continues to do so.)
In 1966, Dr. King protested the subpar housing conditions for African-Americans that predominated in the city of Chicago. He understood that hazardous work often fell to those at the bottom of the economic ladder. In March of 1968, he went to Memphis, Tennessee to lead a strike of black sanitation workers against their working conditions. It was upon his return to that city, to spearhead another action during the first week of April, that he was murdered.
By the 1970s and 1980s, the larger picture came into focus. It became evident that low-income people and minorities were having toxic dumps sited disproportionately near their homes and schools.
Environmental equity has since become a recognized component in the fight for social justice, even if the Trump administration shut down the Office of Environmental Justice.
Local leaders have taken up the fight against toxic waste sitings, polluting industrial locations, and incinerators near their frontline communities. From Standing Rock to Baltimore -- activists are moving forward on the example set by Dr. King.
In a letter composed while in jail in Birmingham, Dr. King wrote:
"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
It is a painful time in our country; a divided time. The loudest and most powerful voices promote the concept that commerce and money are more important than people, health, and the survival of the planet. The focus is on the benefit of the few and not the many.
It is discouraging and can feel overwhelming. However, the numerous quotes given to us through the insights and wisdom of Dr. King help. They make it possible to continue the daily fight to make a difference in small but steady increments, as we each raise our voice against injustice.
Today is a day to depend on the eloquence of Dr. King to heal our hearts and put the truth succinctly:
"One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change."
This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.