“We will live in peace. We will live in peace. We will live in peace one day…. Oh, deep in my heart I do believe we will live in peace one day.” (“The last verse to We Shall Overcome,” which we sang on Dr. King’s birthday.
Each time I sing those words, I am moved (sometimes to tears) by the the distance yet to go juxtaposed to the promise of equality and peace. This year I am not so hopeful. It has been a year of national backsliding. No matter what, we try to keep the dream alive. No matter what, we believe that we can make progress toward the dream. In many was we have. But in important other ways we have not.
We have an historic president. But the truth is that the institutions of America have found subtle and un-subtle ways to sabotage this presidency and our national progress on race. Racism is alive and not well. And it makes the accomplishments of this President against such constraints all the more remarkable. Lowkell has enumerated many of these accomplishments on this front page today. Nonetheless, we have substantial racism in 2012 America.
If you doubt that, you have only to look at all the institutional efforts to purport that quotas are required under Affirmative Action (they are not only not required but forbidden unless there is a court order). Yet the myth is professed to rile white America. You have only to look as far as Prince William County and its codified xenophobia. You have only to look to the shrinking enrollments of African Americans in some universities or the incredibly (even staggeringly) high unemployment among African American youth. You have only to look at our prisons and the prison industrial complex’s unwillingness to move beyond the faux justice (“need” for “finality”) in favor of real justice of getting the right person in criminal cases. The incarceration of so many people of color should make all Americans reflect. My reflection brings me to the point of resolving to work in some capacity on innocence and sentencing reform projects. They are the civil rights problems of our time.
Dr. King sought peace among all people. Yet even as we bring the troops home from Iraq, and consider that there is likely not much more that can be accomplished in Afghanistan (if war were ever a way to accomplish what we sought), there are forces chomping at the bit to flex the muscle of Empire once again. Fear of a fictitious nuclear weapons program is pumped up. A drone is downed within Iran. (Why is a US weapon of war flying over its borders? No war has been declared.) Iran refuses to give it back. An assassin, purportedly not an American, killed an Iranian scientist. Over and over, tensions mount. Despite the dogs of war howling at the gate, even Sec of Defense Leon Panetta admitted recently that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. Yet the tension increases and the sabers are rattling. These days we preempt the “could one day.” And we justify killing innocent citizens over a “what if.” (“We shall live in peace on day?”)
Closer to home, I consider how our own scientists and academics have become such targets of hate (including in the office of the Virginia AG). Education for all, seen as so important to all Americans by Dr. King, is significantly undermined by increased privatization, for-profit schools, and the political and opportunistic scapegoating of teachers is commonplace. With attacks upon education along with the ever-encroaching theocracy, a new Dark Ages approach.
What of Martin’s dream of reducing hate? Even as the youth of our country generally seem more open to other cultures, more embracing of the worlds people, we see bullying of those who are different. We also see the Republican Party stooping to greater and greater depths of bigotry in their attacks on our president and their belittling of people of color. One Republican candidate after another has spewed racist stereotypes pitched in a new Southern Strategy to appealing to whites longing to feel imagined “superiority” again. I think Dr. King would be taken aback. I also think he would be intoning brilliant words exhorting us to get busy. In many ways, our task is bigger than it was, not smaller, now, especially as Jim Crow takes on new forms and shapes.
What of the “Occupy” movement. It is predominately white. I think King, who sought civil liberties for all people, would be pleased. But I think he might also say that its about time. Where were all the same people– or more properly their ancestors –when the movement toward racial justice in these United States began? Though he believed in civil disobedience, I also doubt he would try to close down a port. He was smarter than that and he would be aware of the jobs such action would cost.
The past couple of years have seen so many of states embrace anti-worker policies. The right to organize is under siege. Wages are under threat. Pensions have been underfunded and cut. If they have insurance at all, workers pay more of their health care insurance. And Republicans try to sabotage the Health Care Affordability Act. One Scott Walker after another lays waste workers rights. Republicans and a few Democrats) threaten Social Security and Medicare. Programs supporting children and educational funding are hammered.
I wonder what Dr. King would have thought of all the liberties we have either handed away or allowed our government to seize in the wake of “September 11th.”
Teacherken has a column up at Kos a few days ago here, citing a Jonathan Turley column, which shows how many freedoms have diminished in the eleven years since the infamous and awful September 11th. Were he alive today, would not Dr. King have wept at how easily we have surrendered our real freedom.
I think that, like most of America, Dr. King would have evolved on the subject of women’s rights, the right to be free in one’s body without the state taking ownership of a portion of it. I think he would assert freedom in our homes. Dr. King himself was relentlessly followed and snooped upon by the FBI under the direction of J Edgar Hoover. And I think if alive today he would stand for the right to marry whom you want, to love whom you wish.
Will we ever really believe and honor our own citizens’ right to have a life free of constant government surveillance and intrusion? A whole new area of civil liberties, or the lack thereof, opens up for our consideration AND action.
Dr. King fought for African American’s right to vote, indeed all Americans right to vote. Now Republican legislatures, operatives and its patron, ALEC) seek to disenfranchise minorities and elderly voters under the guise of faux vote protection. We have our work cut out for us fighting to keep lawful voters on the voter rolls and new ones registered.
One of the sorry legacies of our country’s racial history is the response of our government to the growth of Dr. King’s influence. I remember well the the way the FBI and its all-too-complicit (so-called) mainstream media, tried to move public opinion against Dr. King. Indeed, Dr. King’s popularity and influence varied, but took a real hit following his announced opposition to the Viet Nam war.
So many of those of us who were alive during King’s time thought we could join a movement, do some small good and then move on. It just isn’t so. Civil liberties need ongoing vigilance and protection. From the day President Obama was sworn in, and began to face the barrage of hostility from Republicans, it was apparent how wrong I was. The execution of Troy Davis also has shown me how wrong I was to be sanguine about the state of racial justice. The fact that so few care about the massive and inhuman new face of Jim Crow shows me wrong. There is virtually no aspect of the search for justice which is settled enough that it doesn’t call out for ALL of us to get busy. And so I will.
I think Dr. King might also remind us that people of color have had and continue to have many more roadblocks put in their path. Deteriorating schools, the disproportionate selling off of them by local districts in bed with school profiteers, the economy always, always affecting people of color (and especially their youth) more than other Americans. And yet many believe (incorrectly) that people of color are more privileged than they. It is hardly privilege to be incarcerated, even executed, at far, far higher rates than their white counterparts. It is hardly privilege to be centuries behind the rest of society in such things as inheritance (those things passed on, including, but not limited to, monetary things, from one generation to another).
Honoring Dr. King
This past Sunday was in some ways a remarkable day, one in which our white gay minister preached one of the best sermons on Martin Luther King I have ever heard. This same minister gave the benediction at the Martin Luther King Jr celebration at the predominately African American Schaeffer Memorial Church in Christiansburg, VA. If there is hope in our ability to make our society more equitable, to mete out real justice, it is when we come together as in community. We come from our Balkanized churches. We come from various economic circumstances. And we come from different ages, having very different perspectives on the life of Dr. King. And sing, “We’ll walk hand in hand… one day.” May it be so.