This bold, unapologetic declaration remains as urgent and necessary today as it was when made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. over half a century ago at Western Michigan University on December 18, 1963. (Full speech here.) Dr. King's revolutionary, paradigm-transforming work on racial justice potentially speaks volumes, in diverse contexts, across demographics, for all who dream of freedom from the social, economic, moral and existential violence of the modern world. While important historic and cultural differences exist, the parallels in our shared human longing for respect, dignity, personhood, participation, access to resources and restorative justice vis-a-vis an the dominant culture status quo are undeniable.
On the other hand, despite concerted intersectional and longitudinal efforts, there seems no end to the capacity of cultural majorities to label, marginalize and exclude based on popular conceptions of 'social other.' In the arena of mental diversity, our people are every day being used, abused, segregated - de facto enslaved - by a mental health system that unabashedly siloes us away from the 'mainstream' and assigns us for differential treatment based on our failure to conform to socially-preferred conceptions of 'normal.'
Every year, the healthcare industry makes billions of dollars from singling out, recording, labeling and prescribing corrective treatments for the naturally unique 'takes' (expressions, responses, interpretations) that naturally diverse human beings have on the naturally diverse world we live in. Compliance and conformity with the preferred dominant culture behavioral protocol de jure is the expected, often required response. The alternative is to risk being deemed by powerful authorities as unworthy of the rights, liberties and responsibilities universally conferred to others, if not declared formally incapable of managing our own affairs.
What follows are excepts from Dr. King's work that, for me, hold particular salience for the psychiatric survivor/ ex-patient/ mental health peer community. At the same time, these passages evoke a universal, seemingly eternal and transcendent longing. On some core, fundamental, peerly human level, they ask us to grapple with the need, the right, the aspiration of all peoples, every where, for self-determination, good will and fair treatment as equal members of a human family. They call for us to maladjust to the normative lie - our corporate excuse for not even trying - that human nature itself is too fatally flawed, that no people, anywhere could live in this way. They call us to own - each in our own way - our dream of a different future for humankind. They implore us all to do what we can, day by day, to transform the highly damaging attitudes and platitudes - both our own and those of others - that have harmfully adjusted themselves to business as usual in the modern world.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963 (full speech here):
May I reiterate the problem will not work itself out. May I reiterate that it is not a sectional problem. No area of our country can boast of clean hands in the realm of brotherhood. If this problem is to be solved there must be a sort of divine discontent all over this nation.
I say to you, my friends, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.
I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self‐defeating effects of physical violence. No nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. The alternative to disarmament, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation.
In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment‐‐men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half‐slave and half‐free.
As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We know these truths to be self‐evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights” that among these are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his day, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that spitefully use you.”
Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.
My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved. In spite of the difficulties of this hour, I am convinced that we have the resources to make the American Dream a reality.
I am convinced of this because I believe Carlyle is right. “No lie can live forever.”
I am convinced of this because I believe William Cullen Bryant is right. “Truth pressed to earth will rise again.”
I am convinced of this because I think James Russell Lowell is right. “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne; Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own.”
Somehow with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new life into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation to a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
This will be a great day. This will be the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God, Almighty, we are free at last!”