Below is a transcribed version of a speech I gave at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago for the Earth2Trump Roadshow. The Earth2Trump Roadshow is a series of national events coordinated by the Center for Biological Diversity and local allies that culminate in a massive mobilization in Washington DC on January 20th, for President-elect Trump’s inauguration. Other speakers included David Bender of the American Indian Center and Alderman Carlos Rosas of Chicago’s 35th Ward.
In 2017, humanity faces perhaps the greatest challenges in the history of our species. Climate Change, nuclear weapons and militarism threaten our very existence. The gravity of the situation cannot be overstated.
Nationally, we face a menace of epic proportions. Yet, Trump is a symptom, not the disease. The diseases remain capitalism, racism, militarism, homophobia, sexism and ecological devastation. As activists and organizers, artists and poets, we should always focus on the institutions of power, not the individuals who temporarily operate within them.
In the midst of such darkness, brave people around the world provide glimmers of light. The Arab Spring, environmentalists in Nigeria, students in Mexico, women in India, socialist movements in Latin America, Black Lives matter activists in the United States, Aboriginal activists in Australia and Indigenous resistance worldwide provide real-world examples of hope and change.
On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. day, let us remember the real Dr. King, not the sanitized version embraced by political elites and conveyed to the public by the corporate press. Remember, when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4th, 1968, he was supporting striking sanitation workers.
Dr. King’s vision extended beyond racial justice, and his dreams, like most radical dreams, weren’t limited to liberal reforms or single issues. He recognized the interconnectedness of racism, economic inequality and imperialism.
And while we should recognize Dr. King’s tremendous contributions, the late-great historian Howard Zinn reminds us the valuable lesson that it’s not necessarily the Dr. Kings or even the Ella Bakers, as important as they are, who change the world — it’s the millions upon millions of unknown activists, organizers and revolutionaries who sacrifice their resources and sometimes their lives in the pursuit of truth and justice.
Back in 2003, I was a 19 year old US Marine who found myself fighting an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. At that time, I didn’t know much about political movements or radical politics. But I was receiving a world-class education in what’s moral and immoral, what’s just and unjust, what’s humane and inhumane.
I learned that the same oil companies and corporations that poison black communities in East Chicago and brown communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, are the same oil companies and corporations who sent my friends and I to kill innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans and Syrians.
The American Empire, which is not only the largest single consumer of oil on the planet, is also “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” as Dr. King once noted.
Perhaps the most important lesson I learned through my experiences in the war is that the most powerful institutions of our time, namely, corporations and governments, are willing to kill, maim, and destroy anyone and anything to achieve their ends. Their power, in the end, relies on fear and violence.
As a result, our movements cannot succumb to a Politics of Fear. While we face great challenges, and while those challenges and our enemies pose grave threats, those of us who seek to create a radically different society, a society whose values are based on cooperation, trust, humility, ecological sanity and nonviolence, must provide a hopeful vision for the future.
It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to give up and disengage. However, we must take the difficult path. After all, the path to justice won’t be easy. It will require discipline and sacrifice, compassion and love.
While our challenges are demanding, I find inspiration in those who faced greater challenges: Indigenous people who fought colonists, Abolitionists who fought slave owners, women who continue to fight patriarchy, Civil Rights activists who faced bullets from the KKK, and the list goes on.
We should use all of the tools at our disposal – comedy, art, music, culture and philosophy to defeat this current crop of Fascists. Our enemies are incapable of self-deprecation, creativity and humility. They have no vision for the future. They are weak and unoriginal. And they will be defeated.
Vincent Emanuele is a writer and activist who lives in Michigan City, Indiana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org