â€œI love Obama, but I will speak out for the poorâ€
By Chinta Strausberg
Filling in for WVONâ€™s Cliff Kelley, Father Michael L. Pfleger Monday challenged all Americans to not just remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also to imitate him, â€œbe a King. Be a queen. Be a prophet. Make a difference and be a transforming agent for changeâ€ he says begins with the â€œreconnection to dry bonesâ€ and an awakening of the church to its rightful active role.
Pfleger spent four-hours speaking on a myriad of topics from Dr. King to violence and just about everything in between including the church that he challenged to wake up and be like Dr. King and be socially active on behalf of the poor and the downtrodden.
â€œDr. King was a man for all people,â€ said Pfleger who is a priest today because as a teen he witnessed his neighbors cursing, spitting and throwing rocks at Dr. King as he marched through Marquette Park.
He said many people tried to limit him just to blacks. â€œDr. King had a greater message for the white community who had turned their backs and who had institutionalized racism and segregation in this country.â€
Saying King did all he could do including paying the ultimate price, his life, Pfleger said Dr. King did so â€œin order to help white people, black people, brown people all people throughout this country and throughout this world.
â€œI donâ€™t think we could have had a better prophet that weâ€™ve had in the 21st Century than Martin Luther King, Jr. who stood for what he stood for and his voice.
â€œTragically, the challenges he gave whether it was in the Viet Nam War in 1967 as he look at Afghanistan and Iraq today, whether it was on segregation, whether it was on poor education, whether it was on poverty, tragically all the things he challenged you can listen to like he was speaking it today and it is just as real. In many instances, I believe we are worse off than in1968 when he got killed.â€
Pfleger asked why are people so silent today?Â â€œWhere are the Dr. King voices raging in us?Â Why are we not fighting for civil rights, for human rights? Why have we become so immune? When will we wake up? When will we let Dr. Kingâ€™s voice wake up the conscious in us, wake up the rage in us? Why have we tolerated bad education?
â€œWhy have we tolerated children dying in the streets? Why have we tolerated the great divide of unemployment, health care and the poor who have been neglected and made to feel disposable in this country? Why are we so silent?
â€œIâ€™m all for putting pressure on government which has responsibilities, but where are we forcing government to do what it is supposed to do? Why are we not out in the streets outraged every time a child gets shot and killed? Why are we not outraged in our churches and in our community centers and our block club meetings?
â€œWhy are not we running to our aldermen, our governors and our mayors and saying this has to stop. We have to some how wake up and become aggressive, enraged and not reacting to things that go on but demanding that things be made right so that people should not be made in this day and age to still have the conditions they have to live in America. We must raise our voice,â€ he said.
The question, Pfleger said, is how do we take Kingâ€™s mantle? â€œHow do we take his message, his mission and embody it all of us, young and old, black, white, brown and yellow, come together and say the best way we can honor Dr. King is not by brushing off a book on January 15th and reading about him or traveling to Washington and look at the memorial. Those are all great, but what are we doing toâ€ mirror what King live and died forâ€¦and unless we are doing that we dishonor him.
â€œThe last thing he would ever want us to do is to read a book or look at a statue. He wants us to get up and do it and make the dream a reality and not a nightmare,â€ Pfleger said.
Commending Dr. King for not taking a salary and gave up the money from earning the Nobel Peace Prize, Pfleger said, â€œHe gave everything to the movement. He lived his life caring and serving others, and we have to somehow regain that kind of integrity, that kind of character that believes what Jesus taught us in the scripture that I didnâ€™t come to be served. I come to serve. I come to wash feet. I come to heal. I come to feedâ€¦. We forget that is our mission if weâ€™re followers of the gospel.
â€œWe have to somehow let Dr. Kingâ€™s personality and character move us to be what weâ€™re supposed to be today,â€ Pfleger said.
Saying God has given people multi-gifts and talents, Pfleger issued a challenge. â€œItâ€™s time for us to take this garden He gave us, stop being absentee landlords to it, work it and make it fruitful. Make it a place where all of our children, our parents and grandparents can just like Jesus, grow in it and age and grace and wisdom.â€â€™
In response to a caller questioning where is the church in addressing many social issues, Pfleger said he is concerned about the silence of the church. â€œThe church has to become dangerous again. We have become a very safe church. The early apostles were arrested and killed for what they did and what they spoke as they went across the landâ€¦ They were killed becauseâ€ they were radicals.
â€œJesus Christ is one of the most radical persons who walked the face of the earth and yet today we have this very safe churchâ€¦. We justify all kind of wrong with our silence and our presence; so we have to become dangerous again.
â€œEverybody in Washington has a lobbyists except the poor. The church has to be the lobbyist for the poor. We have to be the voice crying in the wilderness for the poor, the forgotten, the invisible, the disposable of this country that the world does not want to talk aboutâ€¦.
â€œThe church has to get up and rise up and become who it was called to be,â€ he said calling it the dangerous church. â€œJesus said by your fruit you shall be known. Weâ€™ve got to produce some fruit on our trees or like any other tree Jesus said it ought to cut it down.â€
Pfleger also talked about President Barack Obama who is under pressure to publicly address the poor of this nation. â€œI support President Obama 100 percent,â€ Pfleger said. â€œI support him. I believe he is the best person for that position right now without question or doubt, but, guess what? I also support poor people who are not eating tonight, who are sitting under bridges tonight, who are begging on the street tonight.
â€œI support children who are sitting in schools and not getting educated, and Iâ€™m tired of hearing well, weâ€™re getting better. Well, the hell with getting better. What if that is your child right now who is not able to get an education. We canâ€™t wait for ten-years because what about the children who are getting shot and killed out here and are afraid to go to school every day,â€ he said.
â€œYes, I support the President, but what about supporting all of the people out here struggle, the father who is told take care of your family, but he canâ€™t get a job to take care of his family. Letâ€™s support everything right out here.â€
When the caller said some blacks say itâ€™s best to wait for Obamaâ€™s second term before asking for anything, Pfleger said, â€œI understand that politically, but I am not a politician. Iâ€™m a pastor and I try to be prophetic in my ways.
â€œHow do you tell a child who is afraid to go to school to wait until the second term? How do you tell somebody who is looking what theyâ€™re going to eat tonight to wait for the second termâ€¦? We canâ€™t afford to wait.
â€œPeople are dying out here,â€ said Pfleger. â€œI have never had in my 36-years at Saint Sabina have had so many people coming to my door saying can you give me something to eat now, today. Can you help me get some place to stay today? People are dying. We canâ€™t afford to wait. I love the President, but I also love people,â€ Pfleger said.
Saying people should speak up, Pfleger made it clear. â€œIâ€™m not taking this to say I am blaming Barack Obama. Iâ€™m blaming government. I am blaming the administration. He is the president. Iâ€™ll take the blame to him, to congress, to the Democrats, to the Republicans, to the independents, to the Tea Party. I donâ€™t really care.
â€œIf you are sitting in Washington, and you are the congress, the senateâ€¦the administration, you must hear our voice. We must not be afraid to raise it. That is what democracy is all aboutâ€¦pushing and forcing and speaking up and raising the issues. People are dying out here. We canâ€™t afford to be quiet. We canâ€™t afford to be wondering if people are going to get mad at usâ€ for criticizing the president.
Pfleger said Dr. King had goals and an agenda. â€œOne of the things we failed in the great election of President Barack Obama that our goal was to get him elected instead of having goals of what we wanted to accomplish after he was elected that we could continue to focus, we had one goal, to get him electedâ€¦and now we are mad and angry for what he hasnâ€™t accomplish, but the reality is we never had an agenda after that to push on.â€
Pfleger ticked off a list of otherâ€™s like the gay rights movement, the immigrants, who had an agenda and are slowly succeeding. â€œWeâ€™ve failed in this country to have an agenda for the poor and those who have been locked out.â€ Quoting his grandmother, Pfleger said, â€œThe squeaky wheel gets the oil.â€ â€œIf we donâ€™t rise up and demand, then itâ€™s not going to happen.â€
Quoting King, Pfleger said his mentor chose to identify with the poor and the downtrodden. â€œWe no longer choose to identify and commit ourselves and demand ourselves to be the voice, the hands and the feet of our lost and forgotten and poor in this country.â€ He fears â€œwe have fallen into this mainstream America and have lost our own identity. Weâ€™ve lost our own mission.
â€œThe first place that needs to wake up is the church,â€ that Pfleger said is sleep. â€œIf we do not wake up and take serious our mission and choose like Dr. King to care about those who are forgotten by society, then shame on us and God will hold us responsible.â€
Referring to his close friends, Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley who conducted a poverty tour, Pfleger said, â€œI was so upset about people running around complaining about Tavis and complaining about Cornel West.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you listen to what they said about poverty and stop connecting it to a personality to Cornel or Tavis or personality about President Obama. This is about issues of poor people and issues of children in this country who are dying every single day being shot down. You talk about endangered species.â€
Pfleger spoke about programs talking about the zoo taking care of some animals being endangered â€œand we saw the whole country go out its mind about Michael Vic about some dog, but we donâ€™t give a damn about children being shot down every single day in this country.
â€œWe are a country that has turned our backs on the poor, turned our backs on our children, turned our backs on a society that is ignoring the needs of so many people. We cannot afford to shut up or be still because itâ€™s not politically correct. This is not aimed at President Obama. This is aimed at a government that is failing poor people in America,â€ said Pfleger.
But, Pfleger also said â€œeveryone must help to improve our life. â€œWe donâ€™t need a government to take care of our home, to take care of our children, to take care of our block. We need to rise up and speak, but we also have to hold an accountability to the government because they have a responsibility to take care of the communities and provide the education, provide the jobs, to give us the pursuit of happiness the Constitution promised us and stop being schizophrenic.â€
Pfleger said he is very concerned about the backlash when people are being critical about the status quo in government or in society. â€œSo many people want them to be quiet, silence, but since when does criticism and critiquing something be defined as hate or lack of support?
â€œItâ€™s a dangerous atmosphere I think we have right now and particularly this is happening I think with having an African American President,â€ said Pfleger. â€œI love and support President Barack Obama 100 percent, but I am not going to be silent on critiquing him or being critical about policies that are coming out of the administration because when I look out my door, I see this poverty.
â€œThere have to be voices that are the revolutionaries, that are the radicals, that are the prophetic that are pressing these issues so that he (Obama) is pushed and so he has coverage from the ground up on the issues for which he has to fight in Washingtonâ€ against his political foes â€œwho are trying to destroy and kill poor people make them not only invisible but to destroy them, but there has to be this willingness to be critical and to critique this situation as it is.â€
Father Pfleger also expressed concern about President Obamaâ€™s alleged avoidance of race because â€œthe Tea Party, the Plutocrats, out here are using the race issue every single day. They hate him because they hate him because heâ€™s a black man in the most powerful position in the world sitting in that White House.â€
Referring toÂ Congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado who called Obama a â€œtar baby,â€ Pfleger said, â€œThere was no outrage around this country. How is it they consistently push this race questionâ€¦ have this hate. They are so against him. It is so evident that race is the foundation that is all around this country. Why do you think he will not address it head on and let them to continue to have the push on thisâ€?
On violence, Pfleger said unless people unite and fight back â€œwe will watch one another being destroyed until it hits your house and then youâ€™re irate because your child has been shot but you didnâ€™t get mad for the child down the block because weâ€™re so disconnected from one another and weâ€™ve become so self-centered in our own pain and in our own misery.
â€œWe have to understand that we canâ€™t solve this alone and we canâ€™t become disconnected from one another. This is the valley of dry bones out here, and weâ€™ve got to reconnect the bones so God can breathe some new life into us but weâ€™re so disconnected, so immune, so hopeless. Donâ€™t let it break your spirit. We cannot let our spirit be broken. We have to rise up together, be strong, be vocal and not let allow ourselves to become silent or immune because tomorrow that could be your houseâ€¦.â€
Pfleger also questioned whether the gangs have become so influential and important â€œbecause theyâ€™re reaching out to the young people who have been failed by the school system and abandoned by the communities.â€ He urged people to reach out to the youth and show them some love. â€œI donâ€™t think the gangs are more powerful than the community. I just think the gangs are doing what the home, the church and the school system have failed to do. I think they have filled a void, and itâ€™s time for us to step up and take that back over and we would not have to worry about the gangs.â€
But, Pfleger made it clear when it comes to the shooting and killing of children and adults. â€œWe have to break this code of silence. I am not a pro-prison person. Our prisons are a joke and a disgrace in this country, but the reality is if you shoot or kill any of our children, you gotta go to jail. You canâ€™t shoot one of our children, go back, lay up, eat McDonaldâ€™s and watch TV. You are now an enemy of the community.
â€œThe community must rise up and draw that line in the sand,â€ said Pfleger who said he is not going to looking for the mayor the police superintendent but rather â€œIâ€™m looking for block after block to say we wonâ€™t tolerate our children being killed in our community. That is unacceptable.â€
Responding to a caller, Pfleger said, â€œWe are more technology connected than ever before in history and yet divided than weâ€™ve ever been, more separated, more segregated. Weâ€™re so foolish. We call 311 to do a well being check with the lady across the street rather than getting off our butts and walking across the street and see how she is ourselves. Until we come together, weâ€™re going to continue to see this grow.â€
On the issue of conceal carry, Pfleger said he is opposed to guns. â€œI am indeed a student of Dr. King, and I believe we donâ€™t need guns in order to bring peace. I donâ€™t believe we need guns in order to have safe communities, and I donâ€™t need guns to protect ourselves.
â€œI am a believer. I donâ€™t understand all these believers who keep talking about Jesus Christ and that they are covered in the blood of Jesus, but just in case let me have my .22. Well, I donâ€™t believe in just in case. I really believe that God is my protector,â€ said Pfleger. â€œI also believe in non-violence, and I donâ€™t apologize for that. I am who I am, and I believe Dr. King taught usâ€ and taught peace. â€œDr. King never believed in a gun.â€
Pfleger said people must learn to love God then they can love one another. â€œWe all have to be vocal, get engaged, participate, agitate, do all the things we can do because the community is in our hands and it is suffering and itâ€™s crying. The blood cries out from the ground.â€ â€œEvery one of us ought to get involved.â€ â€œTell me what you have done to make it better.â€
He also took calls on the late Muammar Gaddafi who ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011 until Navy Seals took him out in his secret compound. Responding to a caller, Pfleger said, â€œWe forget the positive things Gaddafi did. What about the students he sent all around Europe and paid for their tuition and gave them a stipend to get an education. What about the money he put in a fund for Africa to borrow in order to develop African nations.
â€œI am not here to defending any wrongdoing or killing Gaddafi did, but we have to be careful that we donâ€™t start to demonize somebody so bad because we want to make an excuse why we come in and put in over $900 million from American money as well as NATO and money to overthrow this government.â€
Saying that is water under the bridge, Pfleger has a problem about the silence this country has on domestic issues. â€œWhy are we not saying anything about the fact that there are shootings in the streets. Why are we not condemning that violence? Pfleger is against putting a bounty on the head of Gaddafiâ€™s head dead or alive. Pfleger said, â€œWe need to just put things in perspective and not be so ready to jump on the band wagon of vengeance.â€
â€œWe have a long history in this country and around the world to demonize people that we want to turn against or justify our actions of turning against them, and that is what has been done with the media in this country with Gaddafi. Letâ€™s not forget the good things he did. Letâ€™s not just make him out to be the enemy of the world talking about how horrible he wasâ€¦.
â€œLetâ€™s be transparent about this,â€ said Pfleger. â€œWeâ€™re interested in Libya because of oil. Itâ€™s not about the rebels. Itâ€™s not about Gaddafi. Itâ€™s about oil and our interests. I was just told last week of somebody who was sent by the government to go to Libya to watch over our interest with what happens with the new regime with oil.
â€œWe have to be very clear about that. Letâ€™s not pretend that weâ€™re just there out of caring for the tragedy and violence done to the citizen because if we were sending troops to take are of the money and sending money, we could come to Englewood, Gresham, the Lawndale area and all across this country from Oakland to Newark. We have a lot of issues that we should be concerned about right here at home. We ought to be transparent about the real concern out here,â€ he said.
Once again, Pfleger urged Americans to be transparent because â€œwhat makes us credible is what we do outside of those walls when we walk out and transform workplaces, blocks and market places and conversations where ever we go. When we break open our alabaster jar and transform society, that is when God looks down and says â€˜well pleased.â€™â€
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.