January 20, 2014

The radical Martin Luther King Jr.

The radical MLK we need today

As the nation rediscovers poverty, it’s time to replace the safe, airbrushed icon with the revolutionary he was

By Joan Walsh
[H]ere’s one of King’s most famous, resonant quotes about capitalism, from his August 1967 speech: “Where Do We Go From Here?” (I like this version, because it’s punctuated by his SCLC audience’s replies):What I’m saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. (Yes) Capitalism forgets that life is social. (Yes, Go ahead) And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. (Speak) [applause] It is found in a higher synthesis (Come on) that combines the truths of both. (Yes) Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated.Labels don’t matter, but solutions do. Rather than remembering King solely as a civil rights leader, we must reclaim him as a radical advocate of economic justice, looking to lead a multiracial movement of poor people to complete the unfinished business of the civil rights movement. As King put it plainly, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?” Post-integration, too many black people couldn’t sit down at integrated lunch counters and buy a hamburger; 50 years later, too many people of every race have the same problem.

We are ready for the radical King now. President Obama, perhaps belatedly, has declared income inequality “the defining issue of our time.” Even poverty seems back on the agenda. The man who may be doing the most to advance these issues right now isn’t a politician or a rabble rouser; it’s Pope Francis, who’s been hailed by everyone from Obama to Paul Ryan (Ryan gets him wrong) as helping us make the issue of poverty central to our politics. “If Dr. King were alive today, he would be in Rome visiting Pope Francis holding a joint press conference to summoning the world to aid the poor eradicate poverty,” Clarence Jones says. The president promises he’s going to the Vatican to meet the new pope, and that’s a start.

For now, though, all these years later, King’s allies and inheritors are still fighting fires in a burning house. It’s time to rebuild the house with room for everyone, and keep it safer from the fiery danger of injustice.
MLK's vehement condemnations of US militarism are more relevant than ever

His vital April 4, 1967 speech is a direct repudiation of the sophistry now used to defend US violence and aggression

By Glenn Greenwald
King argued for the centrality of his anti-militarism advocacy most eloquently on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City--exactly one year before the day he was murdered. That extraordinary speech was devoted to answering his critics who had been complaining that his anti-war activism was distracting from his civil rights work ("Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. Aren't you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?"). King, citing seven independent reasons, was adamant that ending US militarism and imperialism was not merely a moral imperative in its own right, but a prerequisite to achieving any meaningful reforms in American domestic life.

In that speech, King called the US government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today," as well as the leading exponent of "the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long" (is there any surprise this has been whitewashed from his legacy?). He emphasized that his condemnations extended far beyond the conflict in Southeast Asia: "the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit." He insisted that no significant social problem--wealth inequality, gun violence, racial strife--could be resolved while the US remains "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift"--a recipe, he said, for certain "spiritual death". For that reason, he argued, "it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war." That's because:"If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over."Working against US imperialism was, he said, "the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions." For King, opposing US violence in the world was not optional but obligatory: "We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy . . . ." The entire speech is indescribably compelling and its applicability to contemporary US behavior obvious. I urge everyone who hasn't already done so to take the time to read it.
Comment:  For more on Martin Luther King Jr., see Sanitizing Martin Luther King Jr. and King on Indians and Genocide.

No comments: