I have spent much of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in my car, traveling throughout southern and central Colorado to report on a working-class struggle that transcends the partisan divide (more on this in a few weeks). At one point during my journey, I stopped in Ludlow at the tiny memorial (pictured at right) for the massacre that occurred there at the beginning of the 20th century - the massacre when our government sent in troops to kill those striking for their basic rights.
Looking out at the snowy plain where the massacre happened, I had trouble believing that less than a hundred years ago, this nation's sense of struggle was so profound that people set up strike camp sites and braved the harsh Rocky Mountain winters all to secure the basic right of union recognition. And when I got back into my car, I turned on the book-on-tape version of Taylor Branch's riveting "At Canaan's Edge: America In the King Years, 1965-68." That same feeling of disbelief came over me.
Just four decades ago, America was so full of uprising spirit, that a man like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to lead a movement to fight off the ugliest form of bigotry. Just four decades ago, America was so full of uprising spirit, that a man like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to lead a movement to fight off the ugliest form of bigotry.
In traveling the country over the last year reporting for my upcoming book, "The Uprising," I really do believe that movement potential now exists in America once again - and that is saying a lot.
Since the 1960s, our country has been afflicted by a sense of hopelessness - a sense that movements are unable to be built in America, and therefore that seemingly insurmountable problems will never be able to be solved. But it must have been the same on the eve of the great successes of the labor and civil rights movements. In the early 20th century, workers were grasping for protections not yet created, and in the 1960s, African-Americans were reaching for rights never before granted them in our country's history. And they faced the same reactionary Establishment attack machine that we face today. As Branch's book notes, it was Robert Novak who back during a key moment of King's ascension, attacked the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as "infiltrated by beatnik left-wing revolutionaries, and--worst of all--by Communists" - a slander that historian Garry Wills says Novak probably got "directly or indirectly from J. Edgar Hoover."
There is a hunger out there today for economic justice - and that hunger is being intensified by the oncoming recession and in defiance of the modern-day hatemongers like J. Edgar Hoover. The transpartisan, populist uprising that I document is the result of that hunger - and the uprising may be ready to finally become a full-fledged movement. The question on this Martin Luther King Day is - are we ready to discard our pessimism and rise up to the challenge like generations past?