The Fierce Urgency of Now—After 55 Years

2018-01-08 – In 1963, Martin Luther King spoke these words in his “I Have a Dream” speech:

We have . . . come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Five years earlier, King quoted a 19th century abolitionist saying:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Barack Obama liked to quote this.

So which is it? The long arc or fierce urgency? Patience or impatience? I’m betting that King would say, it’s both. We can’t wait around to act for justice. We have to act now. But we need to see our actions in context. Our gains are not ordained to be permanent. They are permanent only so long as we are vigilant. But the same is true of our losses. We can and will turn them around if we don’t give up.

Today, we are nearly 55 years into the fierce urgency of now, but where are we? In the intervening years, did we get burned out? Did we become complacent? Did the urgency become incidental? Did the fierceness become compliant? Did we forget that evil also has a fierce urgency?

Martin Luther King dreamt of a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” that “we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

In spite of the fierce urgency of 1963, that day has not yet arrived. But so long as we remember the long arc—and the fierce urgency of 2018—that day will yet come.


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