[sixties-l] Fwd: Martin Luther King Jr.: America's all-purpose icon

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 01/15/01

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    >Martin Luther King Jr.: America's all-purpose icon
    >by Robert Jensen (ZNet Commentary / Jan 16)
    >People who once branded King a threat to the nation will march today in MLK
    >Day parades. Cities around the country -- even places where King battled
    >segregation -- name streets after him and put up statues. People of all
    >colors invoke his name, legacy and memory in support of racial
    >justice.There's no doubt that this signals an improvement in race relations.
    >But to make King a symbol acceptable to most everyone, we have stripped him
    >of the depth and passion of his critique of white America and its
    >institutions. We conveniently have ignored the radical nature of King's
    >analysis, and in doing so we have lost an opportunity to see ourselves more
    >Michael Eric Dyson's important book, I May Not Get There with You, reminds
    >us that toward the end of his life, King underwent a dramatic transformation
    >from liberal reformer to radical who believed "a reconstruction of the
    >entire society" was necessary in the United States. But today, King gets
    >used as "a convenient political football by conservatives and liberals who
    >attempt to ultimately undermine his most radical threat to the status quo,"
    >according to Dyson.
    >If King were alive today, it is difficult to imagine him participating in
    >the triumphalism and jingoism that is so common, especially around questions
    >of the "victory" of the United States in economic and foreign policy. I
    >suspect King would offer a different analysis. Consider this statement from
    >a 1967 speech:
    >"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are
    >considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme
    >materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
    >Our political "leaders" today preach that "free" markets and corporate
    >capitalism can bring prosperity to all and that U.S. "humanitarian"
    >instincts can be a force for peace. King preached a different analysis of
    >the effects of our economic system and foreign policy.
    >The "glaring contrast of poverty and wealth" that King warned about in 1967
    >has grown steadily wider. Around the world, people in grassroots struggles
    >are resisting the corporate globalization that pushes more people into
    >poverty and hastens the destruction of natural resources. Resistance to
    >various U.S.-dominated trade regimens goes on daily around the world,
    >usually under the radar of mainstream news media. My guess is that King
    >would be part of that resistance.
    >Today the United States is still "the greatest purveyor of violence in the
    >world," just as King asserted in 1967. Sometimes that violence is through
    >direct military assaults, such as the Bush administration's illegal and
    >deadly invasion of Panama in 1989 or the Clinton administration's equally
    >illegal and counterproductive bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Sometimes we
    >just provide the weapons and money, such as the ongoing attacks in Colombia
    >being paid for by the United States under the cover of a phony drug war. My
    >guess is that King would oppose such violence.
    >Of course if King were alive today, no one can know for sure what specific
    >policy positions he would take. But we can remember the values that
    >energized and motivated him and the movements of which he was a part, and we
    >can apply those principles.
    >As the incoming Bush administration talks of letting defense contractors
    >line their pockets with billions more public dollars for an unworkable and
    >unnecessary missile-defense shield, we might remember King's assertion that
    >a nation which spends "more money on military defense than on programs of
    >social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
    >As our unsustainable affluence and orgy of consumption continue to fuel
    >economic and energy policies that impoverish others around the world and
    >threaten the very existence of the planet, we might remember that King
    >called for "a radical revolution of values" in the United States, a "shift
    >from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society."
    >On this MLK Day, many people will feel comfortable talking about King's
    >dream of a world where the color of our skin doesn't matter. But fewer will
    >be so comfortable talking about his analysis of power and call to "move
    >beyond the prophesying of a smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm
    >On this MLK Day we should remember that King said our country was on "the
    >wrong side of a world revolution" of oppressed peoples.
    >On this MLK Day, we should ask: How long can we ignore King's radical
    >analysis and still pretend to honor him?
    >Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at
    >Austin. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.

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