Inspired by Martin Luther King: a Speech

Inspired by Martin Luther King: a Speech January 16, 2017

This is a speech I wrote during the NODAPL protests inspired by Martin Luther King’s speech given on April 4th, 1967 on “Beyond Vietnam”:


I would like to begin by paraphrasing the great Martin Luther King Jr.

“I come here today because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together”

In 1967 it was the Vietnam war that brought them together, realizing that though they were working for civil rights for the Black American community their work was broader and more encompassing. They accepted the challenges of addressing the failures of their government in the war against Vietnam. Today we are gathered in a different decade, for a different reason: to protest the piping of oil across sacred and sovereign land, to protest the failure of our government to properly address the dangers created by that oil pipeline to the lives and wellbeing of the ecosystems, watersheds, and to the people of the Standing Rock Tribe.

Martin Luther King Jr. at the St Paul Campus of UMN addressing a crowd.
By Minnesota Historical Society

So here I am today, a white woman and pagan priestess quoting a black minister at a rally to support the Native Tribes in their work to protect their land, their sovereignty, and their water. I was at the rally in Lansing last week and I heard many wonderful speakers. I was able to dance in a circle dance while the drummers played and I had a total fan girl geek out moment when the organizers said that they were communicating with Winona LaDuke, a well known Ojibwe environmental activist involved in the protest at standing rock.

She’s protested pipelines in our very own Great Lakes, this beautiful place we all live within, surrounded and supported by the blue waters. We are the stewards of the largest surface freshwater in the entire world. So we know a little something about how water is life.

In my tradition we have a lot of stories about the sacredness of rivers. We know that a bunch of rivers in Eurasia are named for goddesses. The In central Europe the Danube was named for Danu, in France the Seine was named for Sequana, in India the Sarasvati river, now known as the Ghaggar river, was named for Sarasvati. Rivers are sacred everywhere.

In particular, today I’d like to share the story of Boann, the goddess of the river Boyne in Ireland. Storytelling is a way to speak to our deepest places, narrative creates our worlds, so bear with me.

In a time before time, when all things were not as they are today, and the gods walked the land as easily as we do, there was a time before the Boyne river even existed. There was nothing there but the flat plains and forests of the land, but water was scarce and the land was dry.   In that time the goddess Boann was married to the god Nechtan who was responsible for an incredibly sacred well. He was the cupbearer for that well and only he or those anointed and properly purified could approach it.   This sacred well,was called the well of Segais and was surrounded by nine sacred hazel trees of wisdom. These trees would drop their nuts into the water of the well, and a salmon would eat them. This was salmon of all wisdom, but the tales of what happened to that salmon are for another time. This time, we focus on Boann, who was not anointed, not purified and according to the lore, was not supposed to approach the sacred waters. Of course we all know what happened. She totally did. In fact, she walked widdershins around the water. She walked counter-clockwise, against the sun, which is a banishing way and a dismissive way, challenging the powers of the well.

This definitely created a reaction. The waters of the well rose up with such force and power as to make a goddess run, and ran she did, all the way to the sea with the sacred waters chasing her all the way. It is said that she lost an eye, an arm, and a leg to the river that was created by her actions. The Christian monks would say that was her punishment, but we know better now. Those were her three sacrifices from the three sections of the body, that represented the three peoples of Ireland.   By her actions she gave the people access to the sacred water. By her actions she created something new and by her sacrifice of self she singlehandedly opened the waters to the land.

Water is life. The ancient druids knew that as well as we do today. Though today we are presented with increasing challenges to our abilities to protect those waters. Since I went to that Standing Rock Rally in Lansing we have elected a new president, as a nation we have chosen a direction and I find fear in my heart. May our elected leaders find wisdom and know that our rivers are worth protecting. The black snake flows through all our lands and we must stand firm against it. I would again like to quote from Martin Luther King’s speech that he gave at New York’s Riverside Church.

“we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

His vision is even more true now than it was then.

“we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

This shift is what I have spend my life doing, though I did not know it. I have worked on organic farms, I have raised children other than my own, I have helped to build a small but thriving religious community for whom the Earth Mother comes first. So here I am, standing with you, and each of us has the burden of that change resting on our shoulders. When we leave here today we have many choices I hope that you take up that burden in an every day sort of way. It is a spiritual practice that we can all add to our lives. Finding value in the people that we have in our lives rather than the things we can purchase, drive less, buy less, this holiday season, how can you choose people over things? How is it that we make our lives less about oil and more about water?

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, 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. Let us not be too late. Let us all take our small actions, like drops of water, like rain that recharges the lakes.

Let it be so.


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