Celebrating a revolution with a revolution

As I see it, America started “celebrating” this year’s Fourth of July holiday on May 26, when the first protesters took to the streets of Minneapolis to denounce the police murder of George Floyd. Those earliest actions have since led to nearly 5,000 protests in 2,500 towns and cities with an estimated 20 million people participating. It is, simply put, the most massive protest movement in the history of the nation and it is revolutionary, a fitting tribute to our Founders.

The revolution that is taking place in our streets, in our schools, in our churches, in our homes, is not the armed revolution of popular imagination. It is instead a revolution of values, the very sort of revolution called for by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famous Riverside Church speech in April of 1967.

“[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin … the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

The sheer scale and breadth of the movement are the prime indicator of a revolution of values. Never before have so many people from so many walks of life felt compelled to embrace anti-racism in such a public way. At the same time, opinion polls clearly show widespread support among those not in the streets for the ideals being espoused by those who are in the streets.

The continuing protests take on the full triplet of King’s “three evils”, a phrase he turned to again and again. Most prominently, of course, the protests are aimed at the systemic racism that plagues our country, as it has for its entire history. Quite obviously, the protests are also a denunciation of militarism.  But the protests also target economic inequality (King used “extreme materialism” in the Riverside speech, “poverty” in others, “economic exploitation” in yet others). The call to defund the police is, at heart, a demand to redistribute the wealth.

I don’t see the protests losing steam. Just today over a dozen major cities saw huge protests in place of July 4th picnics. And the protests certainly won’t wilt in the face of a president who has clearly decided that campaigning against this revolution of values is his ticket to a second term. On the contrary, the protests will be energized by Trump’s own racism and divisiveness. That is the nature of a revolution of values.

This revolution is a fine gift we have given ourselves as we mark this 244th anniversary of our declaration that “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish” a destructive government. It is a most fitting way to “celebrate” that anniversary. Happy Fourth of July.

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