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William Barber III Addresses the Climate Action Assembly

William Barber III addressed the Climate Action Assembly at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.

Good afternoon, our fifth urgency of now. On August 28th, 1963, some 250 ,000 Americans gathered in the nation’s capital to make part in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. At this march, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King took the podium where he first articulated the idea of a fierce urgency of now. An idea that there was such a thing as being too late. He urged the nation to recognize that it was not a time for apathy or complacency, but instead was a time for vigorous and positive action.

On April 4th, 1967, exactly one year prior to his assassination in 1968, King once again uttered the refrain at the esteemed Riverside Church in New York City. There he addressed a diverse group of over 3 ,000 clergy as he was accompanied by Embers College Professor Henry Cominger, Union Theological Seminary President John Bennett, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a multiracial, multi-ethnic delegation diverse in appearance, but united in their commitment to justice and equality.

King, in his words, spoke, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late.”

Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves of standing bare, naked, and dejected with the lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at this flood. It ebbs, it ebbs, it ebbs. The writing finger having writ moves on. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for a new world.

 In 1967, these words were spoken. Now 56 years later, Dr. King’s words ring true with renewed vigor. As we face our own fierce urgency of now. When we look at the national and global landscape and at the state of current affairs, the reality is that we are bearing witness to our own fierce urgency of now. When we look at the global climate crisis, of which UN climate change deputy executive secretary Ovesa Samard said climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, we are in a fierce urgency of now. When we look at our continued struggle for justice, freedom, equality, democracy, there is a fierce urgency of now. Now as I stand before each of you, I realize that I am talking to a group of highly intelligent, highly informed people.

 You all are, as in society in general, is plugged into the world. The challenges, the threats we face. Threats and challenges that make us question our ability to restore the belief in hope, the belief in the possibility of life, not only among ourselves, but among others. Threats, that admittedly, each one of us as people of faith have seen and have sometimes caused us to shake our heads, have sometimes caused us to stumble, caused us to lose a little hope, caused us to lose a little faith, and shake our dream of a better tomorrow. But in spite of that being the case, as I stand in struggle with each of you, as we face unprecedented challenge and unknown futures, I want to speak to you all and to remind myself as we ask the question of how to maintain faith in a time of social upheaval, how to maintain faith and hope in the face of overwhelming odds, I want to tell you all that the answer is that we must continue to dream.

Langston Hughes, one of the great black poets of the Harlem Renaissance, put it this way, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go, life is a barren frozen field with snow.” Eleanor Roosevelt said it like this, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” These moments of challenge that we face are not new, nor are they challenges that have just come about in our lifetime.

Dreams and the possibility of life did not just come under attack in our lifetime. Look at history before us. There was a history of slavery. The lives of millions of people were snatched by that hellish nightmare and yet what did we see happen? The dreamer stood up. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the abolitionists were born and they not only dared to dream a different reality, they worked to bring that reality to life and this happens in every generation.

This choice must be made. Whether we collectively and individually will choose to believe the dream or choose to despair and believe the nightmare. We as people of faith are especially needed to remind the world that faith isn’t at its best. When things are easy Faith is at its best, when challenges exist that we cannot solve in of ourselves. As people of faith we are called to remind ourselves and the world of the strengths of our dreams. Whenever there is a system of oppression, whenever there is injustice the greatest threat to that system are the dreamers. Because it is the dreamers who retain the faith and the hope that things can change. So as I close, I encourage each and every one of you to hold on to dreams, hold on to dreams, hold on to dreams on climate.

We know the challenge James Farmer Jr. the founder of the Congress on Racial Equality said in the 1960s that if we do not save the environment then whatever we do in civil rights will be of no meaning because we will all have the equality of extinction.

We’ve seen the turmoil caused by global upheavals in the form of rampant poverty, extreme heat, but we have to keep the faith.

We’ve seen powerful politicians and oligarchs attempt to get in the way of societal progress and frustrate our best efforts to build movements of the people for the people, but we have to keep the faith.

We’ve seen that generations of leaders have come and gone… years of struggle have been threatened by denial of or reckless inaction and have sometimes caused us to weep, but we have to keep the faith.

We have to keep the faith because as we look around in this room each of our presence is a testament that the universe will always raise up a remnant. Each of our presence here is a testament that though there is work to be done, hope is not lost. Each of our presence here illustrates what is said in my faith tradition, that where two or three are gathered together, the Creator is in the midst.

We face a fierce urgency of now where we must change the priorities of a society which claims to be the most powerful in history. Each of us, in this moment, is met with a moral and a generational obligation not to despair but to continue to work to effect change, not just to hope for it but to see it enacted.

If there is to be a future and in doing so, in doing so, we each redeem ourselves and prove ourselves worthy of the great human experiment. Let our prayer be like the Franciscans who said, “May God bless us with discomfort At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships So that we may live from deep within our hearts. May God bless us with anger At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.”

Let us feel the whole earth with the song of hope and redemption in this hour and sign that we may change the world as it needs be. Revive us again, hallelujah, thank you.

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