The great task of moral construction is never finished
Prof Jeffrey Sachs' remarks at the March on Washington 50th Anniversary. Delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:
If the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, it is because righteous souls in each generation pull that arc towards its hallowed end. 50 years ago at this spot, King spoke to righteous men and women who braved police dogs and water cannon to fulfill their role in shaping the moral universe. They did their job bravely and well and we honor them today.
Yet the great task of moral construction is never finished. There is no final victory on Earth, only an inheritance of justice that each generation must renew and pass to the next. 1963 was a year of moral crisis and renewal. It was a year to rescue America's soul and to move the world, as John F. Kennedy did with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It was a year of martyrdom of that young president, who had told us that "when one man is enslaved, all are not free."
2013 is another year of moral crisis. America is mired in income inequality. America enslaves multitudes of black and Hispanic young men to feed the avarice of its privatized penitentiaries. America despoils the Earth by its heedless fracking and burning of fossil fuels. And America sends drone missiles that kill innocent wedding-goers in a misguided war on Islam.
It was the genius of the generation of 1963 to recognize the indivisibility of morality. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Pope John XXIII knew that racism, poverty and militarism all carry us away from human needs and aspirations.
It is our turn to bend the arc of the moral universe. We too must banish the moneylenders, not from the temple but from the lobbies of Congress and the White House. We too must beat swords into plowshares, joining together with Iranians, Egyptians, Palestinians and Israelis, to honor the prophets of peace. And we must end our assault on nature, leaving oil and coal in the ground and harvesting the sun and the wind instead.
In our age of greed and glitter, the work of justice often seems to be stilled. But do not be deceived. For the ancient cry still moves us today: Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live in the Promised Land.