Though the circumstances are different than they were 53 years ago, the last part of a speech that Martin Luther King gave at Western Michigan State College on Dec. 18, 1963, is still a rallying cry for we who are maladjusted; we who will not be separated into neat little disparate enclaves by those who want to divide and conquer us, as the Europeans once divided Africa.
On this day four years ago, President Barak Obama called upon us to make Martin Luther King Day a day on, not a day off. He asked us to come together as King had asked and do something for someone else.
Now, more than ever, the maladjusted among us need to stand together against bigotry, misogyny, racism and hatred. We need to stand, as Jesus did with the poor, and turn the rich and privileged out of the temple of our democracy.
We need to love one another, overlook cultural and social differences and do this for each other: save America for everyone.
And as Obama said in his farewell address:
“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. Citizen.
So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
So, be the maladjusted one. Don’t accept what is being fed to us, don’t accept that it is our nature to be greedy, dishonest and hateful. Take the words of the great orator and messenger of non-violent protest Martin Luther King on this day of service; refuse to be swallowed by pessimism and despair. Stand up and be counted among the maladjusted who have led the United States of America, over and over for the last 250 years, calling upon our country, which is us, to be its very best self.
Be the maladjusted one, as defined by Martin Luther King in his 1963 speech in Michigan:
“There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word ‘maladjusted.’ This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.
"But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when Sputniks and Explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament. The alternative to absolute suspension of nuclear tests. The alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. This is why I welcome the recent test-ban treaty.
In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment – men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half-slave and half-free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We know these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,’ that among these are ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.’
"Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.
"In spite of the difficulties of this hour, I am convinced that we have the resources to make the American Dream a reality. I am convinced of this because I believe Carlyle is right. ‘No lie can live forever.’ I am convinced of this because I believe William Cullen Bryant is right. ‘Truth pressed to earth will rise again.’ I am convinced of this because I think James Russell Lowell is right. ‘Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne; Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own.’
Somehow with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new life into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation to a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. This will be a great day. This will be the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!”