“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”
As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, those fiery words from Dr. King during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom remain solemn and compelling. Before getting to his famed “I have a dream” oratory as he urged the nation to reckon with “the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination” that made blacks feel like exiles in their “own land,” King declared Washington as “a hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.”
Our nation’s capital is indeed a sacred site that represents our revered ideals of democracy and freedom. In his “I have a dream” speech, King heavily focused on economic immobility, the injustice of the criminal justice system, voter suppression in the South, and what I consider most essential, Godly love for one another. Putting his words in context for what we are facing in 2021, I strongly believe that we should set aside some time to reflect on King’s declaration that our destinies are “inextricably bound” to everyone in this country being treated with dignity and having unlimited opportunities to prosper. As we say in church, “selah” (pause) on that for a moment.
The insurgence at the Capitol Building showed us that an extreme faction in this nation does not believe that we all should be working together for our collective benefit. The spotting of nooses amidst the Washington rioting signified to me all that I needed to know – that there is still virulent hatred towards minority groups and those with different political views. Even before we got to this tempestuous point of belief that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald Trump, the partisan gridlock that has continued to seethe in Washington further cemented the country’s polarization. Now, as Inauguration Day approaches, there is widespread fear for the safety of Biden and Harris, and particularly Harris, for the history she will be making when she is sworn in as the first black woman vice president.
It is intriguing to look back at King’s reference to our connected destinies today because in that section of the “I have a dream speech” he was imploring blacks who were engaging in what he called “a marvelous new militancy” not to harbor distrust in their hearts toward all white people. If he were alive, King would plead with us not to hate Trump and the mob who charged their way into the Capitol halls; instead, he would not give up on the possibility for some of them to join “the solid rock of brotherhood” and repent to God. I can imagine him saying, “In spite of the furious storm of rage we just witnessed that engulfed Washington, the victory of justice and truth will always rise above the loathing tides of vitriol and abhorrence. We cannot afford to linger in revulsion and disgust, but we must gird up our faith and continue to fight against the maliciousness of division and prejudice.”
We truly need the resilient faith in God that King boldly demonstrated to move past our country’s current state of animosity and fearmongering. King fervently pleaded for us to work together and to pray together, believing in the hope that “unearned suffering” in the struggle for what is morally right is “redemptive.”
As Biden and Harris take office on Wednesday, I will be praying for their protection and covering and that they be the ministering servants the Bible describes of those in authority in Romans 13:6. I will also pray that God instills wisdom in them to govern our country through this bitter discord and that they will be able to discern what the best domestic policies will be in helping the millions of Americans who are severely suffering during this time. We are at a critical crossroads, and King would again warn us that “it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc