MLK, a Hero for All Reasons

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ACCORDING TO LIZ - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born 95 years ago, on January 15, 1929. He is a hero to many in so many ways.

It was not his murder in 1968 that capped over a decade of activism against rampant discrimination against people who looked like him that burnished his prestige, but the ideas that he let fly in his sermons and writings that cemented his prominence in American mythology.

King may not have been perfect as a person but within him burned a fierce vision of morality lighting a path that America has yet to follow. He may have started with the issues he saw and experienced around him, but his commitment evolved to include all Americans, the entire human race.

The March on Washington was perceived as the flowering of the civil rights movement, but its full title was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Access to good jobs that paid enough for families, every American family, to flourish. And freedom from war, not a popular tune for a government constantly embroiled in bellicose debacles.

In a major speech opposing the Vietnam War, King’s words hold true today:

I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

So how dare the warmongers in Washington today presume to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s 95th birthday while arming Israeli fanatics to rain murder down on their neighbors?

My King would want to see the billions of dollars the White House and the Pentagon are pissing down the tubes of war instead spent on healthcare-for-all and affordable housing, on good education and better jobs.

Funding of Medicaid home and community-based services totaling $150 billion was cut from Biden’s proposed Build Back Better legislation in 2022. How much has been spent on weaponizing the current Israeli government?

King would have been appalled.

A fraction of what is wasted in hurting other humans would make all lives better. Instead of buying bombs for Israel to continuing cratering Gaza, the people of the United States desperately need better medical services, free quality education, well-maintained apartments, clean water, living-wage jobs, and long-term home and eldercare.

When FDR died in office, the forces of economic change that he initiated continued long after his death despite increasing opposition from conservative forces. And King was able to draw on and build upon FDR’s work in expanding his advocacy beyond civil rights... to address poverty and human rights.

Racial disparities are still at the core of many of the economic challenges facing the nation today. But the roots go back years before the founding of our country, when the power of capital and the cost of wars shaped and reshaped society around the world.

It was when King started to shake the roots of the capitalist system that he became a clear and present danger to the plutocracy. What scared them was that this was a man who had no fears and a lot of hope. As with Obama’s campaign, hope is contagious. 

While campaigning in Indianapolis just two months before his own assassination, Robert Kennedy’s heartfelt response upon hearing of King’s death was:

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings... 

For those of you who are Black... you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – Black people amongst Blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and comprehend, and replace that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love. 

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

King argued for economic justice for all Americans, not just the Blacks but white sharecroppers, indigenous Americans, farm laborers from Mexico and Central America, the Irish, the Italians and the Asian immigrants, as well as the factory workers whose jobs get outsourced or replaced by non-union scabs or the desperate undocumented. 

Suppression of dissent in King’s time and again today, the oppression of free speech and the evisceration of the free press through economic means – all of which were key concerns of the Founding Fathers and the American Constitution they bequeathed to us – were hallmarks of the Confederate states before and after the Civil War.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln didn’t say that the new birth of freedom was for white Americans, he said that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.

From Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln, from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird to Hair on Broadway, the message still resonates: All men are created equal.

It’s the implementation over the centuries that has been elusive. The Civil War didn’t really change the suffering of the downtrodden. Too often the halls of Washington and the Courts were packed with men beholden to the crony elitists, to bigotry and business interests that benefited from class discrimination.

For King, non-violent action was the most meaningful way to advance social change. He called out his government for wasting American lives and money on massive amounts of aggression in Vietnam in peaceful protest. Like with Gandhi, he and his followers took the high road when their opponents physically attacked and imprisoned the protesters.

King called out cities and states for their mistreatment of minorities and those without economically powerful patrons. He underlined again and again that separate-but-equal could never be equal without equal funding.

He took the issue of race and laid bare that this was an economic issue. And raised that to one of morality.

As President Kennedy expressed when the Alabama National Guard escorted two Negro students into the state university in June of 1963:

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and dear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and opportunities and whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. 

And when King spoke to JFK’s assassination, he could be talking about events today:

We must face the tragic fact that President Kennedy was the victim of developments that have made violence and hatred a popular pastime in all too many quarters of our nation.

Bigotry is not the real problem, the problem is in people’s silence, in not speaking up to challenge the bigotry of others. To demand that every single person deserves equal respect in all areas all the time.

Too often it’s not individual men who are our enemies, it’s the greedy corporations they hide behind to justify their disregard of their fellow humans in putting profits for the enterprise before the lives of the people.

These are the corporations that pressure the governments, that benefit from the expansion of wars in the Middle East and elsewhere to grow sales and again systemize oppression of others.

Let us stand together today and continue the latter part of King’s quest and work together to develop the strength to finally overthrow the yoke of capitalist imperialism and colonialism that has beset America. To stop all war and make the economy work for everyone.

To become a land of unequivocal peace and a people truly dedicated to the fact that all of us, the whole world, are created equal and deserve an equal opportunity to thrive.

It’s time to light the candle for peace and economic equality: let the better angels of our nature, let our hearts show the way to where we can overcome because, in King’s words, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. Toward justice for all.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)