The good news is this week is the 50th anniversary of the March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom. But the same is also bad news because of how we use Martin Luther King's words. For rather than letting his words challenge our hearts to change, we use his words to exercise our fingers. Yes, unfortunately, it seems that many of God's children in America, Conservatives and Liberals, Republicans and Democrats, and children of all colors, creeds and classes, use King's teachings to point the finger of blame at their opponents while raising the finger of pride because of their inflated views of themselves.
Before his speech, King was introduced as "the moral leader of America." But it is the approach of the pharisee from Jesus's parable of the two men praying (Luke 18:9-14) who interprets a message from a great moral leader as a personal communiqué of congratulations. And, to adapt the words of Spock, it is only human arrogance that would assume that voices appealing to values and principle can condemn others only. But this is how King is celebrated by many today. Too many who commemorate him on birthdays and anniversaries are the self-righteous who claim to share his dream while King would call their dreams his nightmares.
In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?, King summarized what he had been saying all along. He said that as long as things, profits, and property rights were more important than people, we could never abolish the real threats to our well-being. Those threats are "racism, materialism, and militarism." Note that each of these threats is an ism that possesses those who embrace them which leads them to oppress, threaten, and kill. And also use King's criteria listed here when examining the claims of following King's Dream made by others. Do they value things, profits, and property rights more than people or do put the welfare of others first?
What my fellow Leftists and Occupy Movement members and I must remember about King is that as much as he had opposed the previously mentioned threats, he had a passion for winning over his opponents as well as preaching against and abstaining from using violence, both external and internal. These passions of King are where we have failed horribly. Whether it is by our war of words waged against the police or the scapegoating of the 1 percent, not only have we shown ourselves to be ignorant of King's words and spirit, we have preferred targeting opponents for wrath rather than trying to change the world by longing for their repentance and conversion. And though we might legitimately lack affection for those who have brutalized us with batons and slandered us with false accusations, trying to win our opponents over is a mandate from King's dream, not an alternative strategy.
And by scapegoating the 1 percent, we have sabotaged our efforts to make a new world possible. For a new world must include 100 percent of the people and not just 99 percent. In addition, though we might not be caught up in the sins of the 1 percent, we should not conclude that we are better people. It could be that we are innocent of those sins because we lacked opportunity.
Regardless of why we don't share the sins of the 1 percent, we should note that we have sins of our own and thus need the compassion and patience of others to continue to change. And if that is what we need from others, shouldn't we show the same to our adversaries without compromising our message and diluting the legitimate complaints we have?
This approach of exercising compassion to win over the 1 percent may seem counterintuitive to what is needed to get what we want. For historically speaking, elites who abuse the rest must be compelled by pressure and demands in order to change. But why must we make winning over and pressuring to compel change an exclusive-or choice? Why can't we try to win over whom we can and peacefully pressure the rest?
To the conservatives who have either claimed to join King's cause or attempted to provide expert testimony as to why King's dream has failed, I would like to ask these questions. How much of King have you read? Do you realize that for as long as you make the plight of Blacks King's only concern, you have adorned his vision with myopia?
And have you read his statements on economic justice? Do you realize why he predicted that the programs of "social uplift" initiated by President Johnson would fail? Do you know that, according to King, they started to fail when LBJ escalated the war in Vietnam? Did you know that King believed in a guaranteed income for all? Do you really think it was welfare, which would be supported by King, by itself that hurt Blacks and not the absence of additional programs that kept Blacks down?
Furthermore, why are you silent about the role that the private sector has played in sabotaging King's dream? Do you really believe that King himself would be a supporter of neoliberal capitalism regardless of the content of the character of its managers? Haven't you noticed from the outsourcing of jobs, the exploitation of foreign labor, and the destruction of the environment, that when you maximize profits, you sacrifice people? And have you ever read King's criticism of capitalism in general? He said that that capitalism denies the reality of collectivism.
Neoliberal capitalism, which is the capitalism du jour, seeks to sever almost all social, economic, and moral responsibilities of both big business and the rich from the rest of society. At the same time, it seeks to prohibit government from serving its people so that private sector elites can profit by filling the void. Were these disconnections ever a part of King's dream? What did King say about things and profits being more important than people? And how does the neoliberalism inspired disregard for the environment fit into King's dream? How does free-trade policies that destroy the ability of smaller nations to produce their own food by forcing their local farmers to compete with our subsidized Big Agribusiness fit into King's dream?
And what about all of the wars you supported in the name of patriotism? Did you think King was bragging or lamenting when he called the U.S. government the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world"? How could those who share King's dream so wantonly wage war let alone do so while declaring that they are accountable to nobody? And how could those who share King's dream justify a rush to war based on lies? Didn't you read where King told us that our choice is not between "violence and nonviolence" but between "nonviolence and nonexistence"?
But we have to give some conservatives credit for stressing the importance of personal morals. And we have to give all conservatives credit for not being liberals. For most of what can be said about conservatives and their love for neoliberal capitalism can also be said about liberals except that liberals try to cover their tracks. And this is why liberals bear a greater judgment than conservatives. For while liberals consistently claim to champion King's dream, they disguise their passionate embrace of neoliberal capitalism and American imperialism by tossing a few social justice issue bones out to us dogs just to prove that they are a faithful master.
But consider the attacks on the Occupy encampments, the war on whistleblowers, the expanded wars in the Orient with its climbing civilian death toll, America's increasing imperial reach into Africa, the forever failed promises to close Gitmo, the failure to criminally prosecute those from the financial institutions who committed fraud and money laundering, and the soaring claims to more authority and power paired with the even greater urge to void themselves of accountability. When liberals combine all of that with their love of neoliberal capitalism, realize that they are using a magic mirror when they tell themselves that they and King have the same dream.
We all have questions of conviction to consider when we read or listen to King's messages. We all have questions because we have all played sabotaging roles in derailing The Dream. Sure, some of us have also contributed to The Dream's realization. But if we are honest, we must admit that all of us have too many failures to point the finger of blame at others only. I know for myself that how I conduct myself in debates, especially on blogs, sometimes employs an internal violence that King opposed. I also need to be more involved with people in the area where I live.
If we really want to realize King's Dream, the first step we will take will be to look at our own failures and sins. And then we can reach out to help our fellow saboteurs who are also failing.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil -- I Timothy 6:9-10a