April 4, 2017, will be the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In confronting the deeply rooted racism, militarism and materialism of the United States, Dr. King described the United States as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Delivered to an overflow crowd at the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, Dr. King’s challenge to engage in a radical revolution of values encountered ferocious opposition. Fifty years on, it is clear that Dr. King’s analysis and call to action are as relevant now as they were then:
Today the United States has a multi-trillion dollar permanent war economy, the costliest deployment of weapons and military personnel in the world, and at home a vast system of mass incarceration, a hideous homicide rate and endemic violence against women and LGBTQ people.
Today as a result of our society’s virulent racism, people of color are subjected to unrelenting state violence through police brutality, police murder and massive incarceration rates, while suffering gross disparities in income, education, employment, military service, housing and health care.
Today materialism dominates our culture and our economy to the peril of all life on earth. It pollutes our values, our souls and the natural world.
Today we know that the struggle against sexism and patriarchy is intrinsically linked to overcoming racism, militarism, materialism and environmental catastrophe.
These truths are too rarely discussed. We are too often silent and too often ruled by despair or indifference.
THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF ELDERS is resolved to join with others to once again break this deadly silence. We will organize group readings of Dr. King’s speech on April 4, 2017. We ask schools, churches, civil rights groups, labor organizations, museums, community organizations, and others to join us in building this movement to break silence, promote dialogue and engage in nonviolent direct action.