On Monday morning, in the bright light of a cold January Martin Luther King Day, President Obama gave us an opening. Like many presidents before, he honored the sacrifice and strength of our soldiers, but then, he turned the tables:
“…we are also heirs to those who won the peace, and not just the war. Who turn sworn enemies into the surest of friends. And we must carry those lessons into this time as well.”
He reminded the world that bravery can mean something besides a willingness to engage in violence:
“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully. Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”
He affirmed that an investment in peace everywhere is the key to security at home:
“America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe. And we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad. For no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”
He linked our country’s security to peace and justice for the most marginalized:
“And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice. Not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes; tolerance and opportunity, human dignity“And we must be a source of hope to the poor and justice.”
In his first term, President Obama often relied on violence, assassinating Osama Bin Laden, authorizing drones, increasing detention and deportation of immigrants. But, in this moment, at the start of his second term, the most high profile figure in the world challenged the narrative that says violence is necessary to build security.
I reject that narrative. I embrace this one. My work has always been and will always be this.
Obama’s actions do not reflect his words, but I am happy he said them all the same. I believe he is struggling as I do, as we all do, to walk the path of nonviolence. In his speech, he also spoke of the evolution of humanity. Ending our addiction to violence is a part of this.
In our daily lives we each wrestle with moments of choice. How do I respond when my child is screaming in my face? With a spank, yelling back, walking away, manipulation? My boss has sent me an email that makes me upset, what do I say to respond? This driver just cut me off, do I give him the middle finger?
These are the weapons of everyday, every moment. Few of us must deal with the availability of a vast army at our disposal and the righteous anger of millions fueling our impulse to use it.
He gave us an opening. He gave himself an opening. I want to walk through that door.