Any drum majors here?



As we approach the holiday weekend, it's only proper that we revisit this piece, I think.

Dr. King's holiday, Any drum majors here? (by Mac Walton): Well, it's 2008 and another Dr. Martin Luther King holiday. Marches will be held across the country. People will march in parades that will be so festive that you may mistake them for carnivals or the first day of a county fair. And between used-car dealer smiles, politicians will make long-winded speeches, looking into tv cameras where appropriate.

CNN will interview a few African Americans who were organizers and prime time players of the civil rights movement back in the day, asking "How was it to march with Dr. King?" "And "How long do you think it will it take us to overcome?"

But what the old guard civil rights leaders will only hint at and what CNN will not seriously discuss is Dr. King's focus in the last years of his short life: The US government's propensity to wage war abroad and shortchange the American's righteous quest for economic and social justice at home.

If we read Dr. King's major speeches and writing chronologically, we see the intellectual development of an outside-the-box- critical thinker moving from civil to human rights; from a black person's right to drink at a water fountain to the right of all Americans to a living wage; from the violence of police against people practicing civil disobedience to the violence against third world countries seeking independence from western dominance.

The corporate media will trot out old film footage of Dr. King preaching having dreams, but you won’t see much film about him preaching "Study war no more." And for good reason: It's too dangerous. Reporters could lose their jobs. News directors too. But Dr. King's intellectual evolution led him to three conclusions:

1. The US was a violent nation-state which engages in war for profit and control of third world resources;

2. Due to its ongoing war efforts abroad, poverty remained rampant at home (And let's be clear: Dr. King meant poverty was speaking of poverty and homelessness of all Americans, and not just African Americans. That's why his poor people's campaign included poor whites, Hispanics and Native Americans, as well as African Americans); and

3. Only a mass movement by grassroots organizations will move the country to tackle poverty in earnest. He concluded that US politicians had neither the moral fortitude nor the political will to end the disgraceful plight of millions of impoverished and homeless people in the richest country in the world.

Why Dr. King's Words and Actions Are Still Relevant Today

A self-described "drum major for justice" who just "wants to do God's will," Dr. King's criticisms against the US government for its pre-emptive, illegal and immoral warmongering in Vietnam is just as relevant today as it was in the sixties. Let us not forget: Dr. King was one of the first prominent US citizens to speak against our involvement in the war in Vietnam, saying it was immoral not only for us to kill the Vietnamese abroad, but also to let the poor live on the streets and go hungry at home. More than any other famous American, it was Dr. King who spoke out against the Vietnam war, making the connection between war and poverty, saying the cost of waging war in Vietnam siphoned off much-needed funds to tackle poverty, homelessness and inadequate education at home.

Will the mainstream media help us to make the connection between the Vietnam war in the sixties and our present war for dominance in Iraq? The billions wasted playing cowboys coming to save the day in Iraq and problems build at home: 47 million without healthcare, jobs moving like crazy to other countries, inadequate funding for No Child Left Behind, thousands of teachers being laid off, shortage of law enforcement officers in our neighborhoods?

Will CNN, for instance, bring on economists and political scientists to discuss the relationship between war and poverty? Will those guests mention that President Johnson's efforts to fight poverty (after much urging from Dr. King and other civil rights leaders) was cut short due to his decision to expand its illegal, pre-emptive costly and bloody war in Vietnam just as we’re doing today?

Will they help us to recognize that true greatness of Dr. King was not only his gifted oratory, not only his ability to hold together loose political coalitions, but his unmatchable intellectual ability to see the relationship between bloody wars abroad and crushing poverty at home? Of course not. But perhaps a more important question to ask is: Do we (African Americans) won’t to hear Dr. King's message, much less act on it?

What about us?

One reason we may not want to hear it is that it might challenge us to do more in 2008. But I think there’s another reason: Dr. King's work sets a high standard. Let’s face it: The guy read voraciously and thought critically about issues big and small. Why he could quote from a Shakespearan play as easily as the Holy Bible. He wrote articles, he wrote books, and, rather than sit around blaming the poor, he acted on their behalf.

He was jailed more than 30 times, hounded by the IRS, the CIA (who tried to get him to commit suicide), and received death threats almost daily. Yet, he continued to act as "a drum major for justice."

Of course this high bar shouldn't keep us from becoming drum majors in our own right, at home, in the workplace, in our communities. But some of use this standard not as motivation to do what they can but as rationale to do nothing. Of course, there is always the notion that to struggle for something beyond ourselves might cause us to lose our highly-mortgaged home, our beloved, gas-guzzling SUV (the only freedom ride some of us know) and that new, shiny barbecue grill from Wal Mart. But, like a tree by the water, Dr. King's bar will not be moved, nor his legacy in the fight for social justice for all Americans.

So have fun on this holiday. Barbecue, get reacquainted with neighbors, have a cold one and talk nice on manicured laws and comfortable patios. But don’t be surprised if some Americans trapped in poverty, homeless and despair may wonder if we really care. And don’t be surprised if a black minister’s overarching spirit drops by, walks through pillows of barbecue smoke, and asks:

Are there any drum majors here?

We're a human development centered cooperative, producing in part through the generous and faithful contributions of our North Star members. Choose your membership: Annual ($36), Monthly ($3), ($5), ($10), ($15), ($30), ($70), ($200), ($500), ($1000).