On this official day of celebration Of the life of Martin Luther King let us think about about what he had to say and a bit about his importance to us today. I'm going to give you the text (from Tompaine.com) of his "Why I Oppose the War In Viet Nam" speech as well as a recording of the speech itself (from DemocracyNow.com) .
I think what made King such a threat to the status quo was the clearheaded ability to communicate facts, to lead from a moral high road that was based on a premise of truth, justice and dignity allowing the listener to weigh and judge the case presented. We hear a different speech giving technique generally today I believe, one styled more to grab the listener viscerally, to circumvent the mind, the intellect, structured to appeal to the knee jerk reaction. And our American democracy is the worse for it. A people not thinking are handing away thier powers of discernment, a foundation of Democracy, in trade for the security and excitement of the crowd, the mob. For blind obedience is fostered by a quickening of the blood, a clenching of fists rather than by utilizing what is best in our nature, our morals and mind, the tools we need for reasoning out a complex situation. We are handed a description of the speakers appearance rather than facts that would aid in the analysis thier substance, by the the majority of mainstream media I encounter; we are handicapped in our understanding by a lack of context, accepting a political figures' utterings over an examination of thier "track record"on an issue. Just look to how Dr King is represented to us today. Does one hear of the Poor Peoples Crusade? I'm betting you will hear accounts of his wonderful civil rights work that finally started at least to give citizens of African descent the rights that are what set our country apart and give it such promise. But he was much more than an advocate for the fulfilment of Americas' promise for our countries' minorities. I'm hoping that you hear about his firm and exclusive use of non-violence, following the modern day example of Ghandi and the time honored example of Jesus. Will you hear that he spelled out his reasons historically for opposing the war in Viet Nam? He gave a primer of U.S involvement in Viet Nam in his speech at Riverside Baptist Church that day, probably the most comprehensive that most Americans would hear. Should the speech be mentioned you will no doubt be informed that he lost many supporters due to it. I wonder if you will get a sense of his championing the dignity of all people. Dr. King seems framed in media discourse as a advocate of solely African Americans. His struggle started there, but with the success of the non-violent struggle for civil rights, his perspective continued to widen, encompassing the great web of variables social and economic that the struggles for dignity and social justice are framed in. Before he was killed Martin Luther King and the progress he was a part of acted as a sort of catalyst; a coalition of people from across the grain of American life was pulling together, and they were focused on bettering our country.
The classic technique to keep peolple of common interest apart and weak is to attempt to turn "us" into "us and them"; an attempt to belie reality: systemic injustices touch the lives of citizens across a broad spectrum. One way to keep people from acknowledging thier common plight is to emphasize petty differences and demonize the "other" in an attempt to banish the truth while appealing to ones need to fit in, letting anger fill the place of self respect while promoting fear, clannishness, and if only on a tacit level, violence. Short circuiting intellectual response. An appeal to to what is basest in people while obscuring thier shared humanity. And it is sadly effective.
Martin Luther King was a moral/spiritual man/political man who advocated the fulfilling of Americas' promise as outlined in our Constitution and Bill Of Rights, as stated in our pledge "With Liberty and Justice for All". He was no saint, he was a human with all the foibles that we humans have. He was a good man who did what he could for his fellow man and our country.