January 19, 2020 by epoetus
It is easy to say “history repeats itself” and “if we haven’t learned from history then we are doomed to repeat it,” which are true, but maybe there are more details that still need to be grasped from our recent history that will help us move forward.
“In a recent social media post, Bernice King, daughter of the late Dr. King, wrote, “People often ask me, ‘What would he say were he alive today?’” She answered, “He’s said it. We’re just not listening.”” – Deseret News
Maybe we still aren’t listening to Dr. King’s message? Maybe the slice of MLK history that we’ve learned isn’t really enough to grasp his message? Maybe the game has changed over the past 50+ years, and we don’t know how to work with his message in today’s world? Maybe Dr. King’s message really was a message for everyone and not just a message for black people in the 1950s and 1960s? Or maybe it is some of all of the above?
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What did he stand for?
• Non-violent Direct Actions and protests
• That the racial issues he was bringing to justice were tied to a bigger root cause
• That our democracy was flawed
• That inequality is at the root of the problem.
“Before long they [the poor black and white people who were drafted into the Vietnam War] must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. […]
It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], 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.” – from MLK’s Beyond Vietnam speech
• He was a democratic socialist
“The 1966 Freedom Budget proposed by Randolph, King, Bayard Rustin, and other leaders in the civil-rights movement helped inspire the efforts to sustain and protect social democracy in America in the 1970s and ’80s. As King wrote in his foreword to the Freedom Budget, it signified “a moral commitment to the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded.”” – The Nation
Where have we missed or ignored his message?
Maybe it is because we haven’t seen the struggle of blacks and other minorities as being everyone’s struggle – that all people suffer with blacks in the age of “The New Jim Crow.” Maybe it is because we always think in terms of teams or groupings – the racist and bigoted idea that “they” are not “us.” The libertarian mentality of “I got mine, so you go on and ‘git’ yours. You’re on your own. I ain’t gonna help you.” may just be more pervasive and unconscious in our bias than we would like to admit to or believe. It is clear that Dr. King was sending us all an inclusive message – one person’s struggle is everyone’s struggle. Here is a quote from the last speech he gave before he was assassinated, and it speaks to the need to unify as a movement that brings us all together. The context is the Memphis sanitation workers strike:
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
This altruism, or “dangerous unselfishness” as Dr. King called it, lies at the center of his messaging. As we all know he has famously said that if one person is suffering from injustice, then we all suffer from it. Maybe we haven’t tied Dr. King’s message to Martin Niemöller’s famous poem “First they came for the Socialists …” Maybe we don’t understand that the millions of black people who have been tagged as felons and therefore cannot vote as part of “The New Jim Crow,” has actually eroded democracy to where we now have #3Peached, the “Moscovian Candidate” as President. These represent opportunities lost where everyone pays the price. Or maybe we should not have bothered to wait for a reason to surface, as the rise of “The New Jim Crow” should probably have generated outrage before the millions who fell off the voter roles and whose lives were ruined mounted – the injustice of it all was probably enough.
In her latest update on “The New Jim Crow” Michelle Alexander says in her interview with the editor-in-chief of the New Yorker, that our problems cannot be solved by working around the edges, tweaking or fixing individual problems. She believes that we need revolutionary change, and to put that into Dr. King’s terms this means that we need a “revolution of values.” The government and the systems we build to support this revolution of values needs to embody and represent the love, compassion and justice that he fought for and we must maintain a vigilance and constant assessment of those systems to ensure the accountability required for preserving them. Her message is one that flies in the face of and is a complete negation of the fear-based messaging of presidential candidates like Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar. Michelle also said that from her perspective only Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders demonstrate that they understand and represent the kind of systemic revolutionary change we need. Dr. King was at his core an agent of democracy, and he knew that building a successful democracy required democratic socialism – and that kind of message can still get you in trouble. Maybe we need to generate more empathy before that revolution of values produces the love we need to drive out the divisive hatred standing in our way.
Deseret News “What does Martin Luther King Jr. Day ask of you?”
Racial violence on the rise under President Trump
Michelle Alexander reflecting on “The New Jim Crow” ten years later.
Last speech before he was assassinated
The Nation May 2019 – MLK was a democratic socialist
Memphis sanitation workers strike
Martin Niemoller poem “First they came for the socialists …”
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