It’s Martin Luther King (Jr.) Day

Posted: January 14, 2012 in civil rights, poverty, race
Tags: , ,

One of my favourite international holidays, Martin Luther King (Jr.) left an amazing legacy to the civil rights community, and activists worldwide who practice non-violent protest. Arguably, #OccupyWallStreet is the first major heir to this style of protest, as the civil rights movement became the heir to it after the Indian independance movement.

I wonder a lot, when I listen or read about current events, what Dr. King would think about the Occupy movement. He would certainly be appalled by the continuing ghetto-isation of America, and would find no comfort in the fact that the ghettos have been integrated, with occasional poor white people suffering nearby.

I know he would certainly be right with the Occupation movement in their stance against poverty, and the excesses of capitalism- you don’t have to read very much of Dr. King’s work, or listen to many of his speeches, to know that he considered corporate oppression against the poor almost as large a problem in the America of his time as racism and segregation were, and corporate greed has become much, much worse since then. Would he commend their commitment to non-violence? Have Occupy done well enough in their protests for that? I like to hope they have. I won’t speculate too much more on this subject, before I start putting words in his mouth that we can’t easily hear from the tenor of his speeches.

He would certainly condemn the use of pepper spray and other police brutality, having seen similar brutality used against his own brothers and sisters fighting for civil rights. He would certainly commend the inspiration taken from the people of what is being labelled the Arab Spring, having learned his own lessons of solidarity in his visit to post-colonial India.

Would Dr. King have supported queer rights? It’s hard to say. He may have been more open to it than many Christians were, but it’s impossible in discussing Dr. King to forget that he was a minister, and even the most liberal of Christian ministers sometimes cannot extend their support for civil rights into the religious realm, supporting the rights of women or queers to be members in full of their religion. It is possibly a good sign that his wife, Coretta Scott King, thought that arguments against gay marriage were equivalent to the arguments used against interracial relationships and marriage, so if he had avoided his untimely death, maybe Dr. King would have been convinced by the same factors that led his wife to believe in queer rights.

I always find this day inspiring and heartening. While we still have to fight hard to maintain and expand our civil rights, there is an incredible legacy behind us, with people from all around the world, from all sorts of communities, involved in it, and engaging in extreme feats of solidarity with each other. There is so much that we, around the world, can learn from the legacy of Dr. King, that I think this day will still resonate around the world in a hundred years time.


Until we have learned those lessons, I’d like to extend my words in solidarity with anyone in the USA who is in need of their civil rights still. This day isn’t just for the legacy of Dr. King, it should be about you.

  1. mickysavage says:

    Excellent post Matthew.

    Martin Luther King was a man ahead of his time in the 1960s. He is the sort of person who if he lived now would still be ahead of his time. It may be that the third world and the environment would have attracted most of his attention.

  2. Yeah, if Dr. King had been alive even say, ten years ago, there’s no way he’d have the across-the-political-spectrum respect that he has in America now. Can you imagine Glenn Beck comparing himself to, say, Gloria Steinem? Or a queer icon, or a popular leader from Latin America? Would never happen, yet because the civil rights movement has lost so much profile since his time, and racism has been re-imagined as a personality flaw, we get to see incredibly insulting things like Glenn Beck speaking a step down from where Dr. King did.

    For an affluent man, and a minister, he really did help create a broad, populist movement, and he put it firmly on the side of the oppressed and poor, even though he never lived that life. Such people are, to a degree, always before their time, because there’s a lot of inertia to push against in our society. What amazes me isn’t how much he died without doing, it’s how incredibly strong his pushes back against the status quo were during the short time he had.

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