Of Kings and Naked Emperors
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. - The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter From a Birmingham Jail."
One can draw a sad contrast with Dr. Martin Luther King going to Birmingham, Alabama in April of 1963 and President Barack Obama spending part of Dr. King's birthday in Massachusetts to stump for a faux Democrat to keep Ted Kennedy's seat from Scott Brown.
Dr. King, as with virtually everywhere, went to Birmingham at the risk of life and limb and wound up getting arrested. A group of eight white clergymen called him out and asked whether black people should seek legal redress instead of demonstrating in the streets. Dr. King's response became one of the most famous letters of the 20th century.
The main thrust of the letter was that nonviolent protest ought to be taken to the streets, that the black man should not have to wait for justice to be given in a courtroom. After all, Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once admonished a young attorney when he said, "Young man, you are not in a court of justice, you're in a court of law." And King was smart enough to know that with Jim Crow laws on the books waiting to be enforced, with racially motivated prosecutors and judges shaping all-white juries, the black man would not get his due.
Compare that with Barack Obama's politically-motivated trip to Massachusetts, openly campaigning for a "Democrat" who, just less than a month ago, seemed to have the race sewn up. But Martha Coakley's own crusading record as a prosecutor is beginning to catch up to her and the more she opens her mouth, the more votes she loses. As State Senator Brown himself recently said, the seat doesn't belong to the Kennedys nor the Democrats but to the people and has to be won fair and square. Unfortunately, Martha Coakley's complete lack of charisma and woeful and dubious qualifications for carrying on Ted Kennedy's legacy has turned Brown's truism on its ear and she's demonstrating that the seat also has to be lost fair and square.
Yet, while focusing on the president's trip to the Bay State and comparing it to Dr. King's countless trips across the south in the name of civil rights may be unfair, it is startling to see how Dr. King's dream of racial equality has been tempered and watered-down. Far from seeing the black man's dream come true, Barack Obama's year-old presidency and the sleazy backroom deals common with every other administration proves more and more that the black man has merely co-opted the white man's dream. We've put the cart a few furlongs before the ox.
Because the civil rights movement, while on life support at best, still has work to do. If the civil rights movement was as potent as it was 45 years ago, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina never would've stretched into its fifth year. Our first African American president wouldn't be lynched in effigy and upwards of 100,000 mostly African American voters wouldn't have had their vote stolen from them by ChoicePoint, Katherine Harris and the Republican Party in 2000. Because, as with every great movement, the worst thing happened to the civil rights movement after Dr. King's death: It got civilized and institutionalized.
Events and statements this past week alone proves that. After a bullet in Memphis in 1968 reduced Dr. King from a potent living force into an impotent icon, former Cosmo centerfold Scott Brown implied that President Obama is a bastard.
Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson said respectively that we shouldn't help the anarchic and dying Haitians because the black guy in the West Wing will steal your money and they are where they are now because they made a pact with the devil.
To listen to these lily-white, right wing sociopaths, blacks are bastards, thieves and heathens. Doesn't sound to me as if civil rights has been fully administered in this country. Just a little over four years ago, during the very same election cycle that saw Barack Obama get elected to the Senate, tens of thousands of African American Ohio voters were made to wait eight hours or more to vote while their own, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, created voting machine shortages in Cleveland and sleazy excuses for denying his own people their right to vote.
Republicans just a few years ago actually opposed the renewal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and in 2005, one dozen Republicans refused to sign a bill apologizing to the surviving relatives of lynching victims for the Senate taking so long to outlaw lynching. What happened in Jena, Louisiana less than three years ago could've just as easily happened in Selma in 1965.
Dr. King risked his life and eventually lost it in the name of civil rights and equal rights not just for African Africans but all people. When Barack Obama travels, he risks nothing, stumps for white candidates in the interests of party supremacy in order to preserve a health care bill that offers anything but equal rights between rich and poor. With Barack Obama, the black man had catapulted from being oppressed and discriminated against and became the establishment without the necessary interval of full and true justice.