Monday, January 21, 2008

King for a Day

I grew up in a small town in the mid-west during the days of the civil rights movement. While I was mainly surrounded by folks who thought Reverend King was 'uppity', a communist and a troublemaker, I was lucky enough to have chosen my parents wisely.

They were white and middle class when I was born, but they didn't start off that way. And they didn't fall for the trap of blaming 'the coloreds' for their problems in society like a lot of the politicians in that day wanted them to. (Anyone else see a parallel to blaming 'illegal immigrants' today for the problems in society?)

I remember the days of 'separate but equal', of 'Whites Only' schools, water fountains, bathrooms and restaurants.

And I also remember that Dr. King was not only not revered by the majority of our country, he was reviled. He was constantly investigated and slandered/libeled by America's government and press.

And his crime was preaching hope, peace, and non-violence.

Just as his message started to resonate with white America he then had the temerity to equate the civil rights struggle in the US with the Vietnam war.

So a lot of whites who were shocked by the lynchings, the dogs, the waterhoses, the Jim Crow repression of their fellow citizens, turned away from Dr. King's message of preaching hope, peace, and non-violence.

They were wrong to turn away. Dr. King was always consistent in his message, preaching hope, peace, and non-violence.

Dr. King saw that our government lied us into the Vietnam war and it was fought by a draft of poor blacks and poor whites against poor brown people. Even some of Dr. King's fellow civil rights leaders didn't see the consistency in Dr. King's message of preaching hope, peace, and non-violence.

Some would argue that we've come a long way from those days. And in a lot of ways I agree. Heck, we've come such a long way that fewer houses of worship, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, were defiled last year in America than in 1965.

We've come such a long way that we rarely lynch or drag our fellow humans to death in America. And we've come such a long way that we seldom kill black, brown or gay people in America just for being black, brown or gay in America.

We've come such a long way that even today, literally today, our fellow Americans march in Jena, Louisiana to protest MLK Day and shout ni**er.

We've come such a long way that GOP presidential candidates still court the vote of white supremacists.

Oh yes, we've come such a long way.

But Dr. King's legacy isn't about the snark and bitterness I've just espoused, it's about hope, peace, and non-violence. So I'll leave you with just an excerpt of just a few of the words he spoke about hope, peace, and non-violence (but please read the whole thing):
A Time to Break Silence
By Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.
Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.
This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.
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, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

SteveAudio: I was going to do an MLK post, but there's no point, you said it all. Thanks!

Cross posted at VidiotSpeak

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