Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A dream not yet realized

Cornel West's remembrance of Martin Luther King published in Salon yesterday is not to be missed. I think that, in recent years, we are starting to recover a bit of the radical King that had been bleached out of history for the better part of a generation. West explains why we need to remember now more than ever.
The fundamental question is: Does America have the capacity to hear and heed the radical King or must America sanitize King in order to evade and avoid his challenge?

King indeed had a dream. But it was not the American dream. King’s dream was rooted in the American Dream—it was what the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness looked like for people enslaved and Jim Crowed, terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized by American laws and American citizens. The litmus test for realizing King’s dream was neither a black face in the White House nor a black presence on Wall Street. Rather, the fulfillment of his dream was for all poor and working people to live lives of decency and dignity.

King’s dream of a more free and democratic America and world had morphed into, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism.” He called America a “sick society.” At one point, King cried out in despair, “I have found out that all that I have been doing in trying to correct this system in America has been in vain. I am trying to get at the roots of it to see just what ought to be done. The whole thing will have to be done away with.” He said to his dear brother Harry Belafonte days before his, King’s, death, “Are we integrating into a burning house?” He was weary of pervasive economic injustice, cultural decay, and political paralysis. He was not an American Gibbon chronicling the decline and fall of the American empire but a courageous and visionary Christian blues man, fighting with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes he identified, which are still with us today.
 Today, the house is still on fire.
The world's richest 1 percent will own more wealth than the bottom 99 percent combined by next year, according to a new study released Monday by Oxfam.

In 2014, the wealthiest one percent owned 48 percent of the overall wealth, while everyone else had 52 percent combined. Their share of the wealth has steadily risen in recent years and is poised to surpass 50 percent by 2016, the study found.
Maybe it's a very small consolation, but if you're grasping about for hope, it is significant that we have dedicated a national holiday to the contemplation of King's memory.  When seen in full, it is a contemplation of the potential of radical resistance and of what it means to  practice participatory democracy.  Rather than a stale commemoration of long gone history, King's holiday is an active reminder of how much there is still to do.

Once upon a time, our friend Steve Scalise voted against its recognition in Louisiana.

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