Martin Luther King, Jr.: “racism, extreme materialism, and militarism”

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States today, we want to share with zero waste advocates around the world this excerpt of King’s 1967 speech titled “Beyond Vietnam.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967

These words were spoken in the context of the Vietnam War and other US military interventions, and they hold true today in many different contexts. In his speech, King exposed the underlying systems of racism, materialism, and militarism, and called for courage and action with “the fierce urgency of now.”

From the perspective of working for justice, for an end to waste, and for an end to the burning of waste, we certainly see many parallels with the systems, symptoms, and solutions that King described.

The stark dichotomy continues to exist between a thing-oriented society and a person-oriented society. Communities of color and working poor communities and are still far too often burdened with incinerators and dumps. Extreme materialism drives a system of wasting and polluting our common future. Militarism is a colonizer and destroyer of natural and human resources. Trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership strive to put more resources under corporate control.

Yet communities are organizing to challenge and transform these underlying systems, and GAIA is proud to stand with them.

In 2011 Cornel West reflected on this portion of Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech in a New York Times opinion piece. He noted:

King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

Let us take courage and inspiration from King’s profound words. The audio recording and transcript of the full “Beyond Vietnam” speech can be found here.

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GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 100 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. For more information visit

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