For someone who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. from 1960 to April 4th, 1968, it was difficult to watch on TV the ceremony of the delayed official opening of the King Memorial in Wash. D.C.. Especially so, because I had been one of the invited guests to attend and participate in the event and that I was geographically on the East Coast, but subject to health issues beyond my control, I could not physically be there.
One of the first things I observed as I watched and listened to various speakers is how few of them emphasized or articulated Dr. King's unshakable consistent commitment to non-violent conflict resolution to improve the quality of life and secure equal justice and economic opportunity. To recite a litany of our current problems and issues without connecting their solutions to non-violent direct civil disobedience to address those problems contradicts the letter and spirit of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
More importantly, the failure to speak about and focus attention on the threat and consequences of existential violence in our communities, in our nation does not carry forward the banner of Dr. King's commitment to non-violence.
In previous blogs, I have stated that violence lies like molten lava beneath our society just waiting to erupt. In 1968, Max Frankel, former Managing Editor of the New York Times, in his introduction to The Walker Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence wrote:
We are known for our violence, we Americans. The creative violence with which we haul down the good for what we fancy as better. The cruel violence with which we have treated red men and black. The intoxicating violence of our music and art. The absurd violence of our comics and cartoons. The organized violence of our athletic and corporate games. The course violence of our speech, even our jokes.
Our young people deplore the violence of the old and are tempted to use violence against them. The old deplore the ferocity of the young and are tempted to use violence to suppress them.
Speaker after speaker spoke about current issues and problems they believed Dr. King, today, would call to the attention of our nation for urgent solution and action. But, few spoke about his indomitable commitment to non-violence in mobilizing direct action to summon the nation's resources to solve those problems.
Additionally, I don't know who in the Memorial Foundation or in the ALFAs selected the speakers who should be invited to commemorate this historic occasion. Anyone who has an accurate familiarity of those persons who were consistent 24/7 365 supporters of Dr. King know about the support, financial and otherwise, of Harry Belafonte. Who aside from Andrew Young and members of the King family, who were invited to speak, was closer to the day-to-day work of Martin Luther King, Jr. than Harry Belafonte?
I have to assume he was invited to participate, but was unable to attend. Otherwise, it was both an insult to the legacy of Dr. King as well as to Harry Belafonte.
This brings me to "Occupy Wall Street." Some of the post Dr. King Civil Rights leadership want to identify this form of protest as an extension of the Civil Rights Movement. It is not. "Occupy Wall Street" may be the most innovative movement for social and economic justice and opportunity since Dr. King. But, it is qualitatively different. It is raising questions that go to the very foundation and raison d'être of our economic system -- Capitalism.
Some media pundits call the "Occupy Wall Street" people "socialist." Some call them people "on the dole" who never want or tried to get a job.
"Occupy Wall Street" is America's own "Arab Spring" which simply occurred in Autumn in New York. The greatest contribution by those who profess to carry forward the legacy of Dr. King can make to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is to guide and insist that they build their movement based on non-violence; and, that they fight tooth and nail those forces who would seek to "hijack" their grievances based on an agenda of nihilistic violence.
Various labor leaders and leaders of the Democratic Party are joining and participating in "Occupy Wall Street." The reality is that "Occupy Wall Street" is raising the consciousness of the country on the fundamental issues of poverty, income inequality, economic justice, and the Obama administration's apparent double standard in dealing with Wall Street and the urgent problems of Main Street: unemployment, housing foreclosures, no bank credit to small business in spite of nearly three trillion of cash reserves made possible by taxpayers funding of TARP.
Dr. King would have been among the first to publicly support "Occupy Wall Street." He would not have waited to gauge public opinion as to whether it was "politically" right or appropriate to embrace and support its objectives.
Finally, as I watched and listened to President Obama's speech at the King Memorial Ceremonies, I was reminded of that line from the Broadway Musical My Fair Lady. Sir Henry Higgins proclaims his success in finally teaching Eliza Doolittle proper speech and elocution by shouting "She's got it! By, God, I think she's got it!"
The text of President Obama's speech, whether crafted by him and/or his speechwriters, was one of his best speeches. Not because of the eloquence of its delivery, but because of the relevance and appropriateness of its content for the occasion of the official opening of the King Memorial. Somebody finally took the time to incorporate phrases and references from the reservoir of Dr. King's speeches and writings to combine them together with a speech that indicated that finally, "by God, I think" President Obama "has got it!"
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