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Monday, January 21, 2008

In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - Part II

During the short career of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement rose as the greatest model of protest that this country had ever witnessed. The movement bravely confronted the fact that the United States had never lived out the true meaning of its creed: a government of the people, by the people and for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed and established upon the principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed theirs lives and fortunes (emphasis mine – taken from the American Creed).

While America was willing to defend these principles for foreign lands during the World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, it had turned its back on its citizens of color, ignoring their pleas for freedom, equality and justice. It was not until Dr. King seared the country’s conscience by reminding it that it was created on the principle that all men were created equal, that America began to dismantle its own form of Apartheid. In his memorable speech at the Holt Street Baptist Church, initiating the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, he demonstrated with his forceful use of language that if their cause was wrong, then everything that America stood for was steeped in hypocrisy:

…And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, then the Supreme Court of this Nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a Utopian dreamer and never came down to earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie...

Despite the insults, the sticks, the stones, the bricks and the threats, Dr. King and many others in the Civil Rights Movement demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice their lives for the principles of justice and fairness; something that has nearly disappeared from the social landscape today. Using the Civil Rights Movement as a model for contemporary dissent, does anyone believe that massive, coordinated rallies would not be taking place to protest our presence In Iraq, or the Bush administration’s furtive control of the Executive Branch of Government, or outrageous gasoline prices and other energy costs, or the lack of affordable health care for the poor and elderly, among other issues?

In Dr. King’s final public speech, he gave his own eulogy of a life that led the charge to slay the triplets of racism, Jim Crow and the refusal of the Federal Government to come to the rescue of the black citizens of this country. However, it was not until the next evening that those who heard the closing words of his I’ve Been to the Mountaintop speech recognized that they were not listening to the motivational speech of a civil rights activist, but the utterance of a prophet:

...Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

At 6:01 p.m., April 4, 1968, the Dreamer fell to an assassin’s bullet, and with him, one might conclude, the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.

America has evolved from one set of struggles in the 1960s to another set of struggles: a wave of bankruptcies; outrageous interest rates for credit cards; the prospect of foreigners buying up this country; an administration that has defied the notion of a transparent government; the threat of terrorism; unusually high energy costs, led by soaring gas prices; and the list goes on. As a concerned citizen who loves America, I ask, “Where are the leaders; not black leaders, but social leaders that can harness the energy of those who see the injustice of it all?” But here’s the frightening prospect - when the masses are more interested in who will win the Super Bowl in February than paying $80 for a tank of gas that will last 4 days, then perhaps we’ve already lost our democratic form of government.

I wrote in Part I of this series about the Trilateral Commission’s report that the Crisis of Democracy was too much access to education. However, certainly this notion is incorrect, because democracies are not vulnerable to an educated citizenry. Democracies are threatened most when the collective will of the people to protest has vanished.

God Bless the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and happy birthday!

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