martin luther king-- the dream in the balance
chairs the Political Science Department at Moravian College
in Bethlehem, PA.
lives begin to end the day
we are silent about the things that matter.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
October 16, 2011 the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was
dedicated in Washington, D.C. The 30-foot tall, granite statue
sits on a four acre, $120 million dollar memorial on the rim
of the Tidal Basin on the National Mall.
appreciate why ordinary citizens rejoiced in the ceremony and
it's gratifying that this shamefully belated tribute now exists.
Nonetheless, I suspect that if King were alive he would have
spurned the event in favour of sitting in and marching with
the Wall Street Occupiers in New York's financial district.
It's likely he would have been pepper sprayed, handcuffed and
arrested -- after all, he was arrested 30 times from 1956 to
1968 -- and conceivably written "Letter from a Lower Manhattan
an article about the Memorial titled "Dr.King Weeps From
His Grave," Princeton Professor Cornell West writes that
King would be issuing a clarion call for "a transfer of
power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary
citizens." Every honest person knows that the Dr. King
now memorialized in the nation's capital and whose birthday
is celebrated on the third Monday in January as a federal holiday
bears virtually no likeness to the radical activist who was
assassinated on April 4, 1968.
has been transformed into a historical relic, public relations
symbol and remote -- almost cartoonish -- mythological figure.
Prof. West rightly terms this "Santa Clausification,"
the process by which we "domesticate, disinfect, deodorize,
sanitize and make safe" King's life
and legacy. The moneyed interests have severely circumscribed
King's image to the less-militant sounding, iconic "I Have
a Dream" King from 1963 and tossed the post-1963 King --
the more politically mature, protest-savvy, and activist King
-- down the memory hole. Why has this
occurred? Because the-powers-that-be fear that the faintest
echo of King's actual message threatens to awaken the public's
quiescent sense of empathy and moral outrage, thus endangering
entrenched power and privilege.
anyone doubt that today King would be organizing picket lines
at the very same sweatshop, child labor-using, outsourcing,
union-busting, war-profiteering corporations now seeking to
burnish their image by associating themselves with a severely
expurgated version of the man.
At a pre-memorial event in Washington, D.C., organized by the
MLK Memorial Foundation, several people were recognized. The
list of honorees included corporate types from General Motors
and Walt Disney to General Electric and Verizon. (Note: During
the weekend one could toast King's memory with a Dream cocktail,
consisting of bourbon, apple cider and honey garnished with
a cinnamon stick. Hot DC restaurants created other special promotional
cocktails including ‘The King's Speech’ for only
$11.95. The chef at the PS7 restaurant paired pecan crusted
chicken with a frozen drink and called it ‘The Dream.’
Diners were invited to raise a glass in honor of Dr. King "in
the city where dreams come true . . . ").
this because the odious behaviour of these corporate predators
typifies what King sought to rectify. For example, Wal-Mart,
which ponied up 10% of the funds to build the memorial, vehemently
opposes every position that King advanced on behalf of worker's
rights. Recall that at his death King was in Memphis to support
1,300 striking sanitation workers in their efforts to unionize.
In his very last sermon he pushed for economic sanctions against
Coca Cola, Sealtest and Wonder Bread because of their unfair
labour practices in Memphis. He was also
organizing a ‘multi-racial army of the poor’ to
march on Washington, D.C. to demand an economic bill of rights
for all, including income, housing and jobs.
the complaint, often coming from black Americans, that he should
refrain from speaking on issues other than racism, King replied
"When I hear such questions, I have been greatly saddened,
for they mean that the inquirers have never really known me,
my commitment or my calling. Indeed, that question suggests
that they do not know the world in which we live.
wonder F.B.I Director J. Edgar Hoover despised, wiretapped and
slandered King as "an instrument in the hands of subversive
forces seeking to undermine our nation." Hoover famously
pronounced King "the most dangerous man in America."
For those residing within what political analysts David Peterson
and Edward S. Herman unerringly term our "unelected dictatorship
of money," Hoover's claim wasn't off the mark. (Earlier,
Hoover had declared the anarchist Emma Goldman "the most
dangerous woman in America").
a democratic socialist, is the leader who declared "A nation
that continues to spend year after year more money on military
defense than on programs for social uplift is approaching spiritual
death." And by 1968 King stopped advocating piecemeal changes,
saying that "For years I have labored with the idea of
refining the existing institutions of society, a little change
here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I
think you've got to have a reconstruction of entire society,
a revolution of values." He was skillfully braiding together
war, racism and economic exploitation and wrote in a posthumously
published essay, ". . . only by structural change can current
evils be eliminated, because the roots are in the system rather
than in men or faulty operations." Speaking to a New
York Times reporter in 1968, King said "In a sense
could say we're involved in the class struggle." It should
be obvious why not a single one of his most poignant statements
is chiseled into the new Memorial's wall.
anyone doubt that King would be in the forefront of opposing
U.S. imperialistic wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond? On
U.S. foreign policy, King said "I knew I could never again
raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the
ghettos without first having spoken
clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today
-- my own government." Is there any doubt that he would
be calling out the first black president and both political
parties on their fealty to corporate and military power?
no doubt. And that's why he was "dangerous" is now
"safely dead." The goal of this truth laundering project
is captured in these powerful verses penned by the African-American
poet/musician Carl Wendell Hines, a poem which has been closely
associated with King: