Well, it's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I am sure at least one carpet superstore has found a way to use today as justification for a storewide blowout spectacular on carpet and padding (with installation).
Others are spending the day reminding everyone that King was a philandering plagiarist and part of the Red Menace.
Others are taking time out of their schedules to tell tales of St. Martin.
TV news producers all over the country are scrambling to dig up that file footage of "I have a dream" in the archives for the six o'clock lead in...
I don't have a real problem with any of that. I believe that individuals should relate to holidays and the events or people they celebrate in their own ways. My Christmas isn't your Christmas and that's cool. Your feelings about Memorial Day and mine might be a miles apart, too. MLK Day is more of the same.
I'm predicting that by the end of the day you may reach your limit for MLK platitudes and insults. I'm also willing to wager that you'll grow weary of superficial spin-laden efforts by those of all political persuasions who want to latch onto the pretty pieces of the King legacy.
I have no real reason to believe you care about my perspective on King or today, but thanks to the net and this too-easy blogging thing, you're going to get it.
Here's a few reasons why I celebrate the life of Martin Luther King that may or may not get mentioned by your local action news team with triple doppler weather forecasts from Rainy Steele and the rest of the Storm-Master team...
- King combined his talk with action in a way too few people are willing to do. We might remember moments behind the podium, but the King story is also one of action at times when the cameras weren't running.
- King demonstrated that the flawed can make a difference. His closet had its skeleton collection. He made his mistakes and took his lumps in the process. He made brilliant moves and politically foolish speeches. He cheated on papers and wrote words that still resonate with millions.
- King is symbolic of the American political experience. We like to pretend, especially on MLK Day, that he was universally-loved, with the exception of a few weekend sheet-wearers (one of whom shot him dead). That wasn't the case then and it isn't the case now, either. King's advocacy went well beyond his recounting of visions from the mountaintop. When he talked about Viet Nam and income redistribution it didn't always play well. Yet he kept talking, didn't tone it down for the sake of his "legacy" or to "pander to a base." At the same time, he certainly compromised--acting as a realpolitik go-between trying to simultaneously encourage and temper a growing movement so that its actions didn't destroy its political base of support. If nothing else, King's story is always fascinating.
- King asked dangerous questions. Those are always the interesting ones. The answers to those questions often give us an idea of why others try to vilify the asker. For instance:
"[T]he movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society," King said. "There are 40 million poor people here. And one day, we must ask the question, 'Why are there 40 million poor people in America?'
And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. And when you ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy...We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day, we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
It means that questions must be raised. You see my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, 'Who owns the oil?' You begin to ask the question, 'Who owns the iron ore?' You begin to ask the question, 'Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?'"
Amazing that no one is willing to ask those questions out loud any more. I have my version of an answer. You probably have yours. The questions, though, are essential and force us to provide an honest accounting of motivations and realities. Those questions don't let any of us pretend to be saints or to cast others as devils.
That "celebrities" of King's status are today mum on these matters tells you a lot about the consequences of speaking out and the courage it takes to risk one's status, reputation, standing and everything else in the pursuit of something big and important. Dangerous questions and the guts that go with them are reason enough for me to bid you a very Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.