More than half a century ago, when he spoke at Hofstra’s graduation, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. highlighted one of his major views of the world. He said: “All of our lives are interconnected. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr. King specifically cited “the triple evils of racism, poverty, and war.” His admonitory views are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s. Many of the same dangers now reflect the global Corona Virus Pandemic.
Over the past few days, headlines and stories from newspapers and television broadcasts dramatize our global connections – and our local perils. Consider reports that “Poorer Nations Can’t Curb Pandemic.” Also, “Ecuador – Cardboard Coffins: Nation Serves as Warning Sign to Region.”
Closer to home: “New York City Buries Dead in Trenches on Hart Island.” Directly relevant to Dr. King’s warning was the lead page one New York Times story, “Black Americans Bear The Brunt As Deaths Grow” (April 8, 2020).
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of “Sapiens: Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” refers to “Disease in A World Without A Leader.”
On Sunday, April 12, The New York Times reported: “A nationalist mindset among leaders is jeopardizing life access to life-saving tools for all.”
A week earlier the judgment was made: “In This Crisis, U.S. Sheds Its Role as Global Leader.”
How are we doing when the “US is Reporting Most Deaths of Any Country” (CNN 4/11)? Former U.S. representative to the United Nations, Samantha Power wrote on April 9: “We Can’t Beat Covid by Ourselves.” She elaborates: “If America leads, the rest of the world will follow – even with Trump.”
However, Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner (and graduate of Long Island’s JFK High School), wrote on April 10 that because of Trump’s conduct, “Authoritarian rule may be just around the corner.”
Regardless of how much we might wish otherwise, or believe there could be comfort and security in Donald Trump’s advocacy of “America First,” Dr. King’s lessons are more applicable than ever.
Americans can, indeed, be “first” (as we often have been throughout history, but first in modeling leadership, creativity, and humanity.) Fortunately, we have many superb examples of Americans acting to enhance citizens around the globe (Is Mr. Trump aware of our heritage?).
Jill Lepore, in “These Truths,” (her book evaluating President Trump and racism), underscores what Lincoln considered our “beacons” of democracy and social justice.
Tom Paine’s appropriately titled “Common Sense” was a clarion call for a different kind of global leadership when he wrote: “We have it in our power to begin the world anew.”
He and the Revolutionary Founders, establishing a republic in a world of monarchs and emperors, had a keen sense that they were acting for people everywhere, and “for all posterity.”
Paine led the way with his personal motto: “The world is my country. My mind is my church. My religion is to do good.”
During the past few years, we have two striking examples of Americans advocating global citizenship. One is from the late Hal Saunders (“Politics is about Relationships: A Worldview for the Citizens Century”).
Saunders was the architect of the 1970s Camp David Accords and an adviser to four presidents. Closer to home, we have a splendid book by Wheatley High school graduate Scott Reich. ”The Power of Citizenship: Why John F. Kennedy Matters to a New Generation.”
Reich graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and then its law school (where he was president of his class). At Penn, he worked closely with President Eisenhower’s grandson David.
Growing up in Old Westbury, Scott celebrates citizenship modeling from his parents, his siblings, and from his grandmother Betty.
David Eisenhower writes that “Scott Reich’s The Power of Citizenship is one of the most moving books I have ever read on patriotism and citizenship. This book will be read as a primer and as a classic on the subjects it covers for many years to come.”
Where Reich builds his themes from Kennedy’s inspiration and leadership, the remarkable Hal Saunders, founder of the Sustainable Dialogue Institute, shows how regular citizens can foster trans formative changes anywhere in the world.
Another of Saunders’ books is appropriately titled “A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts.” Both Saunders and Reich bolster Dr. King’s view of citizens as global agents of humanistic change, and both see racism as a continuing challenge.
For Scott Reich’s discussion of Kennedy’s impact on American and global citizenship, and for Hal Saunders’ strategies for global citizenship, please stay tuned for my next column.
Have the horrors of the Coronavirus pandemic brought us closer to Dr. King’s oft-repeated injunction from the 1960s?
“Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole.”