Thursday, February 23, 2012

What Rev. Martin Luther King’s legacy teaches us for today’s struggles

By John Bachtell

The tactics of non-violence championed by Dr. King created one of the most powerful movements in our history that confronted the highest echelons of economic and political power, shattered Jim Crow segregation, delivered a mighty blow to white supremacist ideology and radically expanded democratic rights, including the right to vote.

This was a revolution that changed the way millions of black, brown and white Americans thought and acted forever. It helped pierce the McCarthyite repression and inspired other struggles for women’s rights, students rights, Mexican American equality, for peace and the environment.

Those revolutionary changes reverberate to this day, helping produce a young generation that is the most racially diverse in history, potentially the most politically progressive and most anti-racist.

It’s fair to say, without MLK and the modern Civil Rights movement, there would have been no Mayor Harold Washington and no President Barack Obama, mighty victories over racism.

In his latter years, King foresaw that the US had reached a crossroads. Would the future be one of chaos, a society bitterly divided by racial hatred, class antagonism, extreme poverty and wealth, the 1% vs the 99%?

Or would it be a multiracial human community – united in brotherhood and sisterhood based on peace, equality, steeped in humanistic values in which all could develop freely on the basis of cooperation? Sound familiar?

In his fascinating autobiography “My Song,” Harry Belafonte writes that shortly before his assassination King attended a fundraiser at Belafonte’s house for the Poor People’s campaign.

That night after all the guests had left except for his inner circle, King expressed his deep anxiety over some of the narrow tactics being pushed by some in the movement including the call for armed struggle, that he saw as self defeating.

King was clearly agitated and argued the source of inequality was rooted in the system, if you had rich you also had poverty. If you wanted to end poverty you needed to change the system, which required tactics of mass movement building.

Belafonte goes on to describe MLK as a socialist and revolutionary.

In his famous 1967 anti-Vietnam war speech at Riverside Church, King said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

King was advocating people before profits.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars, needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not just."

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

King saw the fight for civil rights and economic rights, the fight for African American equality, of the nationally and racially oppressed and workers rights as one in the same.

“That is why the labor-hater and labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth,” he told an AFL-CIO convention.

When he was killed, he was in the process of uniting several struggles: the fight for equality, for workers rights and peace. He had initiated the foundation for a great social movement to “restructure society” of uniting black, brown and white with the multi-racial labor movement, what we see as vital core forces in the labor led all people’s coalition.

If King were alive today, he would see no contradiction between political and electoral action and street heat. He was well aware of their interconnection during his own lifetime. He’d see the imperative of re-electing Pres. Obama.

Therefore to preserve and continue to advance the legacy and dream of Dr. King, we must continue to fight the new forms of pernicious racism, (attacks on President Obama, anti immigrant hysteria, voter suppression, attacks on affirmative action, etc) and anti-communism, unite our class and people and deliver a resounding blow to the Republican Tea Party right wing and their ilk in 2012.

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