Do It for Martin

Let's talk about Martin Luther King Jr. Let's not talk about him just because it's his holiday. Let's not talk about him just because we feel like good people for doing so. Let's talk about him because his message is entirely relevant today.

I'm actually not referring to issues of race, as I'm going to assume that I don't have many segregationists reading my blog. That's not to say that we've come close to solving racial inequality, but that the problem is so much bigger than that. Race isn't real, it's a social construct, a concept that's used to divide us when what the people really need is unity.

It wasn't until recently that I learned that King was about so much more than race. In school, I think they boil it down to racial equality because it's easier to swallow. That's no different than how they teach us the Civil War was all about slavery, when it was just one of many of the motivations, and not even one of the top ones.

In addition to Civil Rights, King preached:
  • non-violence even when faced with violent opposition
  • refusing to align with a political party in order to remain critical
  • opposing war
  • engaging in civil disobedience
  • questioning capitalism
  • helping people have access to jobs, homes, and health care
It's striking to me that so many of King's speeches and words could be delivered unaltered today. He was sharing the message of Occupy Wall Street decades before the rest of us. Sometimes I waiver in my own participation in the movement, wondering if it's all futile, but when I see a man as great as MLK espousing the same ideas, I'm swayed back with his quotes like: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

A lot of people assume that now that we have a black president, the work of King is complete (never mind that he's as much a corporate puppet as anyone), but that's absolutely not the case. The work of Dr. King has barely just begun. We as a society have so much more to accomplish.

So get involved, get informed, and get civilly disobedient. Change doesn't result from those who quietly dissent. I'm charging all of you who agree with many of the tenants of the Occupy movement yet find various excuses not to participate to take a bigger leap. In the words of MLK, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."


KirstB said...

Hey thanks for bringing this up. It is incredibly important to note that MLK was about more than just civil rights. Last year I was involved with organizing a day of service, and we struggled a lot because we wanted to do something with a deeper impact that hit on his three tenets of anti-racism, poverty alleviation and peace. Having kids doodle some pictures to give to senior citizens just seemed kinda lame..
That being said, I don't agree that race should be dropped in the conversation. Race may be a social construct, but the impact of racism is very real in many people's lives.
I've been reading some articles on racialicious that critique the privilege of the movement: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/01/09/why-occupy-wall-street-matters-to-me-and-how-it-can-continue-to-matter/#more-19764

Anyway, point is agree with you, but somethings are just more nuanced.

Kevin said...

Oh, I totally agree, Kristen. I had initially written three more paragraphs to elaborate on my opinions on race, then decided I was putting too much attention on race when what I wanted to talk about something other than that. So I shorthanded that aspect to the point of looking stupid. Whoops.

Perception is reality, so race is "real", regardless of it being a social construction.

The thing about Occupy is that the movement is what people make of it. If people think there is not enough racial awareness/sensitivity, they should address it, not abandon the movement altogether. We had a discussion about this at one of our meetings recently, where someone complained about the way white protesters were talking about the need to go to black communities to empower them, which came off as kind of condescending in their approach. In the end, people realized we need to discuss these issues, because it stemmed from ignorance (and messages we've learned since we were born) - and if we're going to get anywhere we need to talk through them.

For the most part, I don't see some of the problems talked about in other Occupations in LA, but perhaps that's b/c of our demographics and the fact that the majority of the participants here are non-white. They even have procedures to make sure minority/female/queer voices are well represented. At times, I wonder if it gets a little too affirmative action-y, but I also respect the collective will to disrupt the hierarchy society has established. We don't want to defer to that system just because that's what we know. And to be clear, I as a white male don't feel discriminated against by anything in Occupy. We're all allies, and I genuinely feel that energy with this group of people.