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The Post-Mortem on The March “with” Washington – A Reinvented Martin Luther King, Jr.

kingIt's not unusual anymore when dead revolutionaries are turned into state friendly heroes. The lavish attention focused on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over the last 25 years - who was considered a pariah by the status quo when he was alive—is comforting to both his family and those who followed him because it means that his work and sacrifice is recognized. The problem of course is that if you even have a cursory understanding of the history of Dr. Martin Luther King, you can only draw the conclusion that many of those "remembering" him must consider the masses of us to be so easily hoodwinked that in 25 more years they will simply trot Dr. King out as a flag waiving, pro-gun, trickle-down capitalist, foreign policy hawk, who was about to jump into the Presidential race as Nixon's v.p. in 1968.

King’s current memorialization through corporate media eyes plays out as a man without intellect or politics whose sole purpose was integrating into an America that is on the road to righteousness and can only be bettered through peaceful (lets emphasize the peaceful or no corporate checks will be written or air time given) moral suasion. I hear their voices echoing: Obviously the dream is not finished but it is self evident that “we” have come such a long way that the finish line is in sight. Thank you Dr. King (his estate).  Is it too soon, as we are underwriting this new image to hang the “Kmart” banner somewhere?  Here is a royalty check. Whom should it be made out to? Hurry-hurry I think Cesar Chavez is next on the reclamation list! We need more Latinos.

The neo-black politicians and pundits, sponsored by their corporate donor base have benefited more than anyone from a long-fought war to loosen strict racial codes, love this Dr. King because it says their success is what he fought for. You, the poor on the other hand, have to continue the fight—but right now you are dropping the ball, and I, the rich politician and pundit can only do so much.  Can I now get my speakers fee, hurry – hurry they need a black speaker for the Hilary Clinton is the new Harriet Tubman tour.

However if we attempt to do what the corporate sponsors and their brought and paid for beltway politicians and pundits do and re-imagine Dr. King for our time, an honest view would mean looking at the totality of Dr. King and not just at one speech in 1963. This may disappoint some of those who now rap themselves in King’s dream but a brief look at some of today’s issues can show the dichotomy between the King of 1968 and the re-invented King of 2013.

National Security State – The recent revelations by whistleblower Eric Snowden on government spying on private citizens is now at the forefront of public debate, I would argue that Dr. King –who was spied upon by the U.S. government through the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) which attempted to disrupt and neutralize activist and organizations of all stripes in the 1950’s and 1960’s—may have taken a stance against intrusive secrete spying. In one of its more egregious actions against him the FBI bugged Dr. King and sent recordings to his home suggesting that he commit suicide right before he accepted his Noble Peace Prize. I don’t think the redux March on Washington had any speakers raise  this history that points to the dangers of unchecked US surveillance and how Dr. King would probably be defending the young Snowden as a “hero” who himself is sacrificing a great deal to inform the public of US tactics that violate both civil rights and civil liberties.

State of Permanent War – How many speakers at the march mentioned King’s stand against war and violence in the international context. Remember Dr. King called the United States the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. King, whose final public break with the Johnson administration was his stand against the U.S. war on Vietnam, would no doubt have taken a similar stance against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the not so secrete drone warfare in Yemen and Pakistan. From still being the leading arms seller in the world to its multiple threats of future bombings, the US has only stepped up its idea of using violence to make the world bend to its will. Dr. King we should presume would not be an advocate of this and would point out the obvious hypocrisy of so many celebrating his non-violence stance while saying so little against US violence worldwide.

Racial and Economic Justice – Usually racial harmony is most easily invoked when speaking about Dr. King. The 2013  version of the “dream” acknowledges progress has been made on integrating america, you know the black President, a plethora of middle of the road democratic elected officials, about three more black Oscar award winners (only one actually played a maid), a Video Music Award show with bad imitations of black music and culture by white performers without any black award winners, you know full integration, the type when they don’t really need you for anymore.

On a more serious note, the successes of the civil rights movement has opened up some opportunities that have actually helped to decrease black poverty. However, the corporate aligned part of the civil rights movement has also participated in shifting black consciousness in a coordinated effort toward individual achievement and chastising those who have not “made it”. This reality is coupled with an organizing model that makes tepid demands, with tepid marches filled with tepid speeches to a unresponsive government apparatus.

By 1968 Dr. King by was mixing demands for racial justice with economic justice. Speaking out against racial discrimination and breaking down overt legal barriers on voting rights and participation in certain areas of civic life can mean only so much without putting economic justice at the core of such work. King stated in a meeting with the Southern Christian Leadership Council that “Something is wrong with capitalism as it now stands in the United States. We are not interested in being integrated into this value structure… a radical redistribution of power must take place.”  Do the new King acolytes challenge the very roots of the economic system that has brought great wealth to a few while leaving the others in a ditch? While King was beginning to challenge capitalism along with racial discrimination his modern day legacy invokers have created a false pagan idol King that they can worshiped at the new March on Washington, whose image is made of gold and who is now embraced by the very structures and institutions that opposed him in life.

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About Kamau Franklin (80 Articles)
Kamau has been a dedicated community activist and organizer for over twenty years, first in New York City and now based in the south. He has been a leading member of several grassroots organizations dedicated to the ideas of Malcolm X on self-determination. He has organized on various issues including youth organizing and development, police misconduct, and creating sustainable urban communities. Kamau has led and developed community cop-watch programs, freedom school programs for youth, large scale community gardens and alternatives to incarceration. He can be followed on twitter @kamaufranklin.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Post-Mortem on The March “with” Washington – A Reinvented Martin Luther King, Jr. | Grassroots Thinking | Alicia Anabel Santos
  2. imiXwhatilike! | A “Post-Mortem” on the March “With” Washington / Kamau Franklin
  3. Radio Interview – IMIXWHATILIKE – Kamau Franklin On The 50th March On Washington | Grassroots Thinking

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