Sunday, August 29, 2010

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Politics, that is. Just noting two things about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two things far beyond "I have a dream" and that beautiful vision of a non-racially divided America that all white Americans seem to think is all Dr. King ever had to say:

KING believed that it was America’s collective responsibility to provide economic justice for all. In 1961, the civil rights leader addressed the AFL-CIO on his vision of the American Dream. King said that his vision of America’s promise was a country where “equality of opportunity, of privilege and property [are] widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” King helped launch a Poor People’s Campaign based around demanding that “President Lyndon Johnson and Congress help the poor get jobs, health care and decent homes.” The civil rights legend explained that poverty was a problem that couldn’t be solved without a “the nation spending billions of dollars — and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.” He spent the last days of his life campaigning on behalf of a living wage for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
KING believed in loving those who disagreed with him and engaging in thoughtful dialogue. One of the hallmarks of King’s philosophy and what separated him from many other African American leaders was his advocacy for maintaining thoughtful and respectful dialogue with those who disagreed with his goals. In 1957, the civil rights leader gave a sermon titled, “Loving Your Enemies.” King said that a man must “discover the element of good in his enemy, and every time you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.” He practiced nonviolence and even asked civil rights demonstrators to not fight back when attacked by white racists. He demanded of his fellow demonstrators a “refusal to hate.”
Frank Rich, among others, continues to criticize Obama for not attacking his political opponents. Perhaps not, like Glenn Beck does, "with vicious and hateful language." But most critics of Obama insist he'd get further with verbal assaults on Republicans, than with trying to work with them. It's worth noting King was being vilified for the same reasons just before he was shot to death, and his moral authority, which has reached sanctified status in the wake of his death, was at a very low ebb at the time.

Today it seems to be based more on what he didn't do, than on what he did. That may, or may not, be a political lesson. But today, nobody remembers King's most famous speech came during the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom."

In the months leading up to the march, Kennedy, Wilkins, and Young did everything they could to ensure that the speeches made at the march would be temperate in tone and moderate in their calls. In the push to make the march “respectable” rather than offensive to the administration and much of white America, the original economic focus of the march was lost.
47 years later, it still is.

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