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Pete Mackey
Pete Mackey
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King – Obama – The Stars Are Aligned

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I re-read Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail every year at this time. This year’s reading was cast through a radically different prism. Dr. King’s words from 45 years ago portend tomorrow’s inauguration – amazing stuff. Who would have thunk it – even a year ago?

I read his letter because I want to understand how life really was for black people in the South in 1963. I read it because I want to remind myself that there are people, like Dr. King, who have the courage and conviction to truly follow their conscience, without regard to the personal consequences. And, finally, I read it because I want to understand why I do what I do. In spite of what many folks think, there are lots of easier ways to make a good living than being a plaintiff’s attorney.

Dr. King understood the problem and the call to action – and he understood that the call to action was not popular even with his inner circle:

… I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

Those are some powerful words. I am not so arrogant as to think that what we do as trial attorneys even begins to compare with the struggle Dr. King led and sat in the Birmingham jail for (I am typing this in the comfort of my den). I do, however, believe that Dr. King would have approved of the role that trial attorneys have played in making products safer, in protecting employees’ rights, in attacking financial institutions that cheat consumers. Standing up against injustice is morally right and the duty of those who claim that role. That it is the vehicle by which we feed our families makes it no less just.

Sometimes the call to action is taking an unpopular position in your town on behalf of a client – filing a lawsuit against a favorite son, suing a fellow attorney or taking a legal position that infuriates a judge that you really care for. Other trial attorneys who read this understand how agonizing those calls can be. But when we are done, we all want to look back and think that we made a small difference. I heard someone on the radio today say that Dr. King walked so that President Obama could run. Think about that tomorrow.