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Spirit of MLK found in resistance to pandemic

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On this day in 1967, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr made a transformative speech at the iconic Riverside Baptist Church, in New York City — the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

The address, entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, was pivotal in galvanising an historic, emerging movement against that war. MLK's speech occurred a year to the day of his assassination.

Notwithstanding his physical death, there is evidence that the spirit which imbued Martin Luther King Jr lives on. This light has been expressed in various ways over the decades, and during these dark times of the 2020 pandemic.

Dr King's words that day challenged the misdirection of President Lyndon B. Johnson's leadership, which promoted a policy of war in South-East Asia.

Today, Americans find themselves in the eye of Covid-19 on the back of misdirection from President Donald Trump. In spite of urgent advisories from the World Health Organisation and US intelligence agencies since early January regarding the inevitable tsunami of infection, the present administration dropped the ball.

Consequently, the pandemic has made landfall and the American health system has been found to be lacking drastically the basics of face masks, let alone ventilators.

It is noteworthy that over the past three years, the Trump Administration slashed funds for health and social welfare, including an 80 per cent reduction of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's budget since 2018.

In the Beyond Vietnam speech, Dr King opposed the militaristic policy of the Johnson Administration. During the opening of that famous speech, his words eerily resonate with the present situation found in New York as they experience the pandemic:

“We are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”

MLK went on to express the view that while there was a need to protest that unjust war, that historic moment required a much wider agenda to move beyond Vietnam for the longer term:

“We as a nation must undergo a revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a people-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit margins and property rights are more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

These words speak to too much of present reality across the globe; for instance, those dramatic cuts to US federal support systems such as the CDC were used to fund the Trump Administration's $2 trillion tax cut for the mega rich in 2018.

In Bermuda, like most countries, the Government, the Opposition and private sector have demonstrated collaboration in taking proactive steps to address the pandemic while following WHO guidance. Based on the experience of China, South Korea, Singapore and others, most countries have responded rationally.

However, even some countries following guidance have been severely challenged during Covid-19.

Our government's plans to transform Bermuda's health system into one, in which healthcare is deemed a human right, has proved to be increasingly timely in the wake of the crisis.

As the human family looks beyond the pandemic, we are all asked to 'consider the big picture' as societies might consider Dr King's timeless call for a “shift from a thing-oriented society, to a people-oriented society”.

The spirit that imbued MLK has been evident globally during these challenging times.

That spirit has manifested in all corners of the globe, including:

• The late whistleblowing Chinese doctor who was able to alert authorities to the emergence of Covid-19 — from which he died — in the face of efforts by corrupt provincial bureaucrats to conceal that reality

• The people of Italy who began the new tradition during their lockdown – of singing and applauding from their balconies — for the frontline health providers at 8pm

• Those local truckers and the corporations of Hamilton and St George who voluntarily covered garbage collection

• The scores of local volunteers for their longtime support of those vulnerable populations with food and transport to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and who continue to be available during the crisis

• The 50 Cuban doctors who volunteered to help the people of Italy as they experienced that most damaging impact of the pandemic

• The three local educators – Carika Weldon, PhD, Sergio Pitcher and Kimberly Tankard — who voluntarily established a free online fun-educational programme for primary and middle-schoolers, which attracted 600 subscribers

• The retired nurse, American Kitty O'Meara, whose viral prose captures a poignant perspective on the pandemic, which begins:

And the people stayed home ...”

• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

Indefatigable spirit: Martin Luther King Jr delivers his Beyond Vietnam speech at Riverside Church, New York City, on April 4, 1967
Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published April 04, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 04, 2020 at 8:39 am)

Spirit of MLK found in resistance to pandemic

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