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Rekindling the Light of Peace

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration
Pasadena Human Relations Commission
Mayor Bill Bogaard
January 10, 2004


May I start by noting how suitable it is for us to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King. Pasadena is a city of great diversity, great poverty, great resources, and great commitment. On behalf of the community, I extend thanks to Nat Nehdar, the Human Relations Commission, and to all the others who have helped to present this event.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s history-changing contributions to our great country, we in Pasadena have reason to be proud and optimistic about what the new year holds. On the first day of the new year, the Rose Parade unfolded flawlessly with its annual lesson to the world about how to have fun on January 1. A day or two later, Pasadena’s JPL accomplished a milestone with the flawless voyage of the rover, Spirit, to Mars. The landing of Spirit on Mars was a unique accomplishment, and yet it represents only the beginning of the exploration, research and discovery that will teach us significant new things about the universe and enrich our lives from this point forward.

But this auspicious beginning of 2004 should not blind us to the difficult times in which we live. Last year, the United States took a new direction in international affairs by adopting a doctrine of pre-emptive military intervention with the war in Iraq. We have a long way to go in this and future years in bringing this initiative to a constructive and peaceful resolution.

In California, indeed around the country, the fiscal crisis that envelopes government at all levels poses a challenge that will consume officials and citizens this year and thereafter.

And here in our community, the difficult year 2003 was marked in its final moments by the loss of one of Pasadena’s civil rights pioneers. Major Elbie Hickambottom was a force in Pasadena educational circles until his dying day. With Elbie’s death, Pasadena and the region lost a giant of a man of conscience.

So I want to ask the question Martin Luther King asked in 1967, in a speech he delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That question is, “Where do we go from here?”

There are many challenges facing us on the threshold of a new year, some of which emerge from last year’s events, and many others which are too numerous to mention. Let me focus on just one for the moment, which relates to the risks to American liberty posed by the nation’s response to the current concern about radical Islamic terrorism. We find ourselves in a time of stress and worry, but it is not a time to take counsel from our fears, which is the direction in which we seem to be headed.

In a new book, The Naked Crowd, the author Jeffrey Rosen states, “It is hard to imagine Franklin Roosevelt instituting a color-coded system of terrorist threat levels. The great wartime leaders encouraged citizens to see themselves as part of a larger struggle, rather than encouraging them to focus obsessively on their own vulnerabilities.”

He added, “Without enlightened political leadership that has the courage to challenge the public’s emotionalism, rather than encouraging it at every turn, democracies may not find the inner resources to stay calm in the face of an uncertain future.”

One of Dr. Rosen’s examples of leadership is Abraham Lincoln’s appeal to Americans anxious about the strife over slavery that preceded the Civil War. The President urged us “never to violate in the least particular the laws of the country, and never to tolerate their violation by others.”

So, where do we go from here?

It seems to me that the current administration in Washington is asserting that the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens and the rights of non-citizens can be disregarded, violated in the name of national security. But going forward, we need a better balance on the part of our government between personal liberty and national security.

It is my hope that in the coming year, perhaps in the context of a congressional debate over the U.S.A. Patriot Act, a fresh look can be taken and a better balance achieved to protect civil rights even in the face of our commitment to make the world secure.

On a broader basis, where do we go from here?

Allow me to use the words spoken by Martin Luther King to offer a vision for our pursuit of peace and solidarity. He urged:

“A dream of equality of opportunity; of privilege and property
widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take
necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream
of a land where men do not argue that the color of a man’s skin
determines the content of his character; a dream of a place where
all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as
instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a
country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of all
human personality, and men will dare to live together as brothers—
that is the dream.”


That is where we go from here!

When this dream of Dr. King is fulfilled, we can emerge into the bright and glowing daybreak of freedom and justice for all.

Posted: 1/10/2004 08:30:00 AM