It’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day.
Some of you have the day off. Some march. Some go to fancy banquets and listen to stories of “back in the day” and many take for granted what King fought for.
More people don’t vote now, more than before King when people were blocked from voting. Call it apathy, call it indifference, but considering the effort that it took to change the system, the system hasn’t changed as much as King hoped.
And while King is celebrated today- many still don’t understand that at the time, he was still not recognized as a force of nature.
The beginning of the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” began with an admission by King that “Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.”
The sum total of his response 6,921 words. Of course, he was in jail and had time to write.
Fast forward to 2015- and if the civil rights movement were getting started today. If King put up 6921 words- he’d get TL/DR (too long didn’t read) by most.
And while his goal in most protests was to create imagery of many people marching, or to bait racist police chiefs into letting loose the dogs, hoping for headlines- media today wouldn’t work the same way. If civil rights wasn’t done then, it may not have happened, or set the groundwork for things to come like marriage equality.
The one thing that distinguished King from others, was his ability to attract followers- to have a herd to be heard. There were many detractors, but those core followers made the difference.
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.”
He was challenged as an “outside agitator” by many. His response was clear “Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
The real question is who is going to lead the next clear battle in American Civil Rights- the one that will truly end poverty, end class inequity and bring back the ideals of “all men are created equal” and that they all have the opportunity to engage in the pursuit of life, liberty and the happiness that seems to be evading so many?
It’s time for people to take the time to read the long versions, it’s time for people to ask questions, and it’s time to find new leadership that isn’t beholden to the mighty dollar. The underlying causes of inequality are still here today.
We can celebrate King’s victories all we want, but, to think the battle has been won, is to kid yourself.