Wednesday, January 15, 2014
"Makes me wanna holla!"
Today's entry honors Dr. Martin Luther King. I'll return to writing about writing in the next blog.
Well, today is the Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday, January 15th, the REAL day he was born not the one created by the US gov't (January 20th this year). As instituted by the gov’t, it's celebrated on the third Monday in January. The same change has moved Washington's birth day and Lincoln's birth day in February. The two days have been combined into President's Day on the official time table. Whatever. I guess industry complained about how too many days off for the masses slow the grinding wheel of capitalism. Anyhoo, silly me acknowledges a person's birthday on the day the person was born not when it's convenient for me.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela, his treatment and portrayal in the mainstream press as a grandfatherly, benign, smiling figure bugged the hell out of me. From most press reports, one would think this man had spent hard time on Robben Island because he'd littered. Of course Faux News had to mention that he was a Communist. So, still after that, one was left with the impression that he went to jail because he'd been a littering Communist.
Anyway, the man got life in prison because he'd demanded better for his people. He wanted freedom. At any cost. He'd seriously broken the law, accepted his fate and had refused to change his beliefs when caught (with the help of the CIA). In fact at his trial he stated that he was willing to die for his beliefs because he was not budging one iota on his stance. So, instead of death, off to a lifetime of prison he went.
In the end after corporations were boycotted and pushed to divest in South Africa or else by the activist African-American community in the US and scads of other people of many races and creeds of the same mind, the government of South Africa blinked and Nelson Mandela was released. He'd done 27 years by then.
At the time of his death he'd outlived all of his oppressors and the best that mainstream US news outlets could do was to swing between "grandfather" and "Communist."
Good freakin' Lord!
Tell the truth! He was a staunch believer in dismantling a system that had become comfortable in grinding it's boot heels on the necks of South Africa's indigenous population. He was willing to blow it apart. He was a head-knocker of the first degree and had embraced his shadow side. He was a multi-faceted human being.
Which brings me back to Martin Luther King, Jr. His influence has been blunted by mainstream media. With the celebration of each passing MLK holiday, someone, somewhere reads “I Have a Dream” in front of his statue on a plaza or at a gathering, people have the day off, stores throw weekend-long sales. MLK has become a safe benign figure and commodity whose words from one speech have encased him in time in the role of quiet peacemaker.
MLK was a profoundly different man at the end of his life in 1968. He was light years away from the young preacher who'd spoken in D. C. in 1963. His "I Have a Dream" speech has been co-opted and misinterpreted so many times that its meaning has been severely diluted. Constant repetition of that one speech makes one think that the only thing the man did was sleep! Even the schizophrenic GOP has twisted it to their means. UGH!
Like Mandela, Dr. King had been arrested. Like Mandela, King's movements had been trailed. In his case, he'd been watched by the FBI of J. Edgar Hoover. And before he woke up and smelled the coffee, Robert F. Kennedy had not been an ally. Sadly, he'd be murdered a month after King. The five years between '63 and '68 had changed King greatly. He no longer thought being peaceful was going to get the oppressed anywhere. His last speechs before he was assassinated held all his new thoughts. Yet, they are rarely, if ever, quoted. He was on board for Johnson's War on Poverty program but spoke out against how it was not enough because funds for the program were being siphoned off for the Vietnam War. He was against war period and even more so against one that was taking from the poor to escalate action in SE Asia. At his demise, he'd been organizing and helping garbage workers get more money for their thankless jobs. Speaking up for the poor and against the war earns no one friends in high places. Only enemies. Dr. King knew this and pressed on anyway. He had seen more, had heard more and was probably pissed at being dicked around. Yes, the King killed at 39 was markedly different than the 33 -34 years young preacher of "I Have a Dream" renown. And by 1968 he was aware that this change could get him killed. And it did.
And how do we commemorate him decades after the March on Washington, his fight for the overlooked and his murder? We throw appliance sales, car sales and dumb-assed freedom-to-twerk parties. Yeah, I said it. D-U-M-B-A-S-S-E-D. We attend breakfasts where speakers give lackluster, rote re-readings of select parts of the "I Have a Dream" speech. We celebrate a whitewashing of his warrior legacy.
I truly hope Nelson Mandela's warrior legacy fares better.
Thank you, Dr. King, and Happy Birth Day!