M any Americans honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on cold January Mondays with a traditional day of service projects. This year a new wave of economic injustice protests led by the Occupy Wall Street Movement have been seen across the country.
On this first King holiday since the Occupy movement was launched in New York City, the debate was reignited over inequality when protesters marched in below-freezing temperatures from the African Burial Ground to the Federal Reserve in downtown Manhattan. (Reuters)
Washington schoolchildren played “We Shall Overcome,” and crowd members drew parallels between the Occupy movement and King’s Poor People’s Campaign, which he was organizing as the next phase in the civil rights movement before he was murdered in 1968.
“What Occupy Wall Street is trying to do is exactly what (King) was trying to — focus on economic injustice and to inform and educate the American public,” said Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
They state that on November 27, 1967, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice and housing for the poor in theUnited States, aiming itself at rebuilding America’s cities.
Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to shut down Washington in the spring of 1968.
The Poor People’s Campaign did not focus on just poor black people but addressed all poor people. Dr. King labeled the Poor People’s Campaign the “second phase,” of the civil rights struggle – setting goals such as gathering activists to lobby Congress for an “Economic Bill of Rights,”
Dr. King also saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor ” – appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”
Under the “Economic Bill of Rights” the Poor People’s Campaign asked for the federal government to prioritize helping the poor with an antipoverty package that included housing and a guaranteed annual income for all Americans.
Dr. King was organizing what he hoped would be the longest-running protest in the history of the nation’s capital. He intended to dramatize the suffering of the nation’s poor by bringing them to the capital. Poor people would live together on the National Mall – the long strip of land between the U.S. Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial – and engage in widespread civil disobedience. King wanted to force the federal government to deal with poverty.
This was in 1968.
Forty four years later it is MLK Day 2012.
There is a new monument inWashington DC where many people came today and heard many speeches. Most spoke about remembering King with a “Day of Service” rather than a typical holiday celebration of spending and parties.
The MLK Day of Service has become institutionalized. It is a part of United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative, and calls for Americans from all walks of life (why does it say that?) to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems.
MLK Day of Service offers the use the Action Guides to plan for the Day of Service.
MLK Day of Service calls for participants to join the hundreds of thousands of people who serve on MLK Day and, to find a project in their community or to register their own project so that volunteers can find it.
Finally the MLK Day of Service asks, “What are your plans for MLK Day?” http://mlkday.gov/index.php
The question in 2012 to potential Servant Leaders, Occupy Wall Streeters, Faith-Based Organizers, Change Agents, and other Dreamers is can we move from service to action with the grace and humility of MLK?
(Wiki) The Birmingham campaign was a strategic movement organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to the unequal treatment that black Americans endured in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign ran during the spring of 1963, culminating in widely publicized confrontations between black youth and white civic authorities, that eventually pressured the municipal government to change the city’s discrimination laws. Organizers, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. used nonviolent direct action tactics to defy laws they considered unfair.
Of the tactics used in the Birmingham campaign, King said, “The purpose of … direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
In discovering Dr. Martin Luther King again – for the first time – we need to see his prophetic message in its wholeness of theology and humanity.
If honoring Dr. King means to be called to serve and ultimately commit to a life of direct action for humanities sake then we should ask one question. Why King? Why this man?
It has been considered that one reason we stop and think about the great causes on Martin Luther King Day is that no one has replaced him. It was his voice that was so strong, and his message could not be ignored. There is no other Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so we return to his words so often – especially on this day.
In his clear voice, he reminded us of the dangers, the wrongs, the challenges that faced us. He did so with great passion, and with great depth and substance.
It is almost impossible to single out a quote or two. There are so many. And, yes, he repeated key phrases, in different places. But for this Martin Luther King Day, let me point out one of his themes. (As reported by Randy Mayeux blog).
.. His attention to the great injustice of poverty.
This excerpt comes from his Nobel Lecture, delivered on December 11, 1964, after receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
“In a sense the poverty of the poor in America is more frustrating than the poverty of Africa and Asia. The misery of the poor in Africa and Asia is shared misery, a fact of life for the vast majority; they are all poor together as a result of years of exploitation and underdevelopment. In sad contrast, the poor in America know that they live in the richest nation in the world, and that even though they are perishing on a lonely island of poverty they are surrounded by a vast ocean of material prosperity.
Glistening towers of glass and steel easily seen from their slum dwellings spring up almost overnight. Jet liners speed over their ghettoes at 600 miles an hour; satellites streak through outer space and reveal details of the moon.
President Johnson, in his State of the Union Message, emphasized this contradiction when he heralded the United States’ “highest standard of living in the world”, and deplored that it was accompanied by “dislocation; loss of jobs, and the specter of poverty in the midst of plenty.”
In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Today as we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. in theUnited States, it’s worth remembering over four decades after his death his stand on the Viet Nam War and his impact on modern American politics.
King’s sermon titled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” was delivered at Riverside Church in Manhattan one year to the day prior to his assassination in Memphis.
Steven Thrasher reported today in the Village Voice that in that speech, King came out strongly against the Vietnam War, a stance that was reviled by camps from President Johnson’s White House (who felt that King was betraying them after Johnson had fought with King for the Civil Rights Act of 1964) to many, surprisingly enough, of King’s brothers and sisters from within the trenches of the civil rights movement itself. Even some of King’s close friends thought he was getting off message, and feared the wrath of Johnson.
Thrasher noted that King obviously knew the power of individuals and groups to affect change through non-violent resistance, and he lived to see some of the power both could harness. Yet when he delivered his speech in 1967, he was not at all starry-eyed about who was wielding the power (political, military and economic) in terms of American policy in southeast Asia, and what would happen to the world if it continued unchecked:
According to Thrasher we still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
“Beyond Vietnam” and was delivered exactly one year before his assassination. In it, he criticized the US government, insisting it was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ ”
Later that year, King commented on the “cruel irony” of black Americans dying for a country that treats them as second-class citizens.
“We were taking the young black men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties, which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem,” he said.
“We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them in the same schools.”
I call upon people of goodwill, people of faith, anyone with hope and reason to begin to deal honestly with this ..
“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”
Peace to You ..