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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
January 17, 2000


An activist friend was visiting from Santa Cruz last week, and she asked that I show her a threatened piece of local habitat. With a sweeping gesture, I suggested she was witnessing the demise of an entire eco-region. We sat up until the wee hours of the morning swapping a laundry list of environmental battles lost. Like me, she is a glutton for punishment. Michelle was not satisfied. She wanted to bear witness to the destruction.

Embracing the policy of non-violent civil disobedience, we decided to visit Box Canyon in Carlsbad. The civil disobedience came in the form of trespassing. Henry David Thoreau once said "the day will come when it(nature) will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only, when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the PUBLIC road, and walking over the surface of God's earth shall be construed to mean trespassing." Did I mention that Bank of America is planning to dynamite Box Canyon to prevent lawsuits?

Civil disobedience is the foundation of American culture. The American revolution is proof that change does not come easily, and will not be accommodated by an entrenched government. Once upon a time America's heros were people of conviction and courage, and often they were the ones fighting to correct injustice. More often than not, from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks, and all the men and women in between, the struggle for equality has come in the form of breaking the law. Peacefully.

Today we rightly recognize the heroic life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What makes his "I have a dream" speech one of the greatest examples of American oratory, is Dr. King's verbalization that all Americans dream of something better, and that all of us desire to be free of tyranny in whatever form it manifests.

During his last sermon, when Dr. King spoke of the promised land, on April 3, 1968, who would have imagined a black man running for President thirty-two years later. Sadly, despite the words and wisdom of Dr. King, racism is far from history in America. The media's treatment of Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes is proof positive that we still have a long way to go.

Although Dr. King fought against racism, it is important to note that one of his early influences was the grandfather of the American environmental movement, Henry David Thoreau. Looking beyond the human condition, it was Martin Luther King who said "All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." This quote speaks to the shared struggle towards social and environmental justice. As long as hierarchy is perpetuated among humans we will never discover our true worth.

Both King and Thoreau were jailed for standing up against injustice. Both spoke eloquently against a political system based in domination, discrimination, and lack of representation. These men understood that judging one genetic pattern as superior to all others, was as wrong as it was dangerous. Shaped by the evil of racism, both men connected across time to speak to the fiber of our very consciousness. Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.,not because we all need a day off, but because we, as a species, were made better as a result of his dreams.

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