King was a radical. He challenged America's class system and its racial caste system. He was a strong ally of the nation's labor union movement. He was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis, where he had gone to support a sanitation workers' strike. In his critique of American society and his strategy for changing it, King pushed the country toward more democracy and social justice.
The success of the Montgomery bus boycott remains a shining example and model for what can be achieved through nonviolent activism. Six decades later, the University of Missouri Tigers football team flexed its muscles when it decided to boycott future games and practices until MU system President Tim Wolfe stepped down or was removed from office over allegations that he failed to address continuing charges of racism and discrimination in the four-school system.
Yet, in the wake of five protestors being shot while peacefully protesting the death of Jamar Clark near the Fourth Precinct police station in Minneapolis, it is once again revealed that the most longstanding and deadly terrorist groups in America have always operated under the banner of white supremacy.
Today, too many would-be movement leaders simply want to be Dr. King or Mrs. Rosa Parks: they want the glory and privilege of leadership without the burdens or sacrifice and sustained hard work. Movements are not built from the top down by powerful leaders but percolate from the bottom up from people who share common grievances.
On the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birth, we can take some solace from what Dr. King did in the face of forces far more annihilating than the ones that progressives face this cold January. He built a movement when the consequences for challenging the racial order in the American South were swift and brutal. It is all too easy to make a list of why all political avenues to a more progressive society are blocked. At a time when the economic dreams of tens of millions of Americans are being crushed, I have no doubt that we shall see another progressive social movement.