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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

Rep. Waters: In this time of national sorrow, let us look to Dr. King

January 17, 2011
Opinion Piece

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) authored the following op-ed for The Hill Congress Blog in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day:

In this time of national sorrow, let us look to Dr. King
By Rep. Maxine Waters

This 25th anniversary of our national celebration of the life, times and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – his legacy of nonviolent resistance, community activism, and social change through peace, love and tolerance – is an important milestone as we reflect upon a national tragedy that has shocked us to our very core and left us trying to understand a heinous act of violence.

Last week, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was critically injured and many of her staff members and constituents were killed or wounded in a mass shooting that lasted only seconds but will be seared into our minds forever. Indeed, this monstrous attack upon innocent lives, and the representative democracy we cherish so dearly, has given us pause and broken our hearts.

No words can give adequate justice or much comfort to the injured who are recovering, the families and friends who are grieving for the loss of their loved ones, and the American people who are trying to understand what happened. What we do know is that Gabby and the other victims, their loved ones, and the first responders and volunteers who leapt into action are all fighters, they are all heroes, and they are all our brothers and our sisters.

Also weighing heavy on my heart is a recent wave of violence in my district in South Los Angeles, violence that is often traced back to gangs that continue to act with impunity and terrorize my constituents like: five-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr., hit by a bullet in his own backyard while showing off his Spiderman Halloween costume to his family; Kashmier James, a young woman killed while visiting friends on Christmas day; 14-year-old Taburi Watson, shot while riding his bike a few days before New Year's; and Mr. Lewis Smith, who sadly was removed from life support earlier this week after surviving the initial shooting.

In some sad and tragic twist of fate, Mr. Smith was wounded in a shopping plaza and memorial area named after Dr. King, one of the greatest minds to have lived and graced us with his wisdom, his strength, and his vision for a better world for all people, especially African Americans in our fight for equality, justice and freedom. But I understand that already, in the spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, some business owners and other leaders have come together to address this act of violence against Mr. Smith and stand united as a community.

So I believe it is as relevant as ever to look to Dr. King and his words to help us understand these and other tragedies – and perhaps more importantly – understand how we go forward as a stronger community, a stronger nation, and a stronger people resolved to be: vigorous in our debates, but never violent; impassioned about our opinions, but never intolerant; steadfast in our efforts to work together and implement effective social change, but never scurrilous; and demonstrative of respect toward our fellow man and woman, but never derisive.

Dr. King, in his letter from a Birmingham jail, said that "we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

His ‘Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom' tells us that a world of true cohabitation "will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering upon others. It will be done by rejecting the racism, materialism and violence that has characterized Western civilization and especially by working toward a world of brotherhood, cooperation and peace."

And of course, Dr. King's ‘I Have a Dream' speech echoes throughout our minds and our hearts almost half a century later, reminding us that "we must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."

The past is prologue, helping us to understand not only where we were, but where we are today and where we are headed tomorrow as a people and a nation .

We look to the future knowing that we have accomplished much since the days of unchecked and socially-tolerated violence against people because of the color of their skin, but cognizant of how far we still have to go to continue the work of perfecting our union.

On this 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and in the spirit of renewal in a New Year, let us recommit ourselves to his principles and make sure we conduct ourselves in a manner befitting his expectations of us.

The author represents California's 35th Congressional District.