As we pause to honor the life and work of Martin Luther King I am reflecting on what he might think and do if he were alive today. As I am doing that now, I hear John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in my head.
As Cornel West wrote, “If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises.” Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy. Cornel West, The Guardian, April 4, 2018.
There are so many people and conditions of oppression and suffering around the world today. Mother Earth herself is suffering. So many situations that would benefit from a leader such as Martin Luther King.
This morning I’m envisioning what King might do among the people, and in the places I’ve found myself over the course of my life.
Actually, King was alive at the time I was dealing with my first spiritual and justice struggles which related to war and peace. I came of age during the Vietnam War, eventually deciding to resist the draft. Martin Luther King was criticized by some in his own movement when he took a stand against the war himself. It meant a lot to me that he did so.
Recently there was an attempt to build a new Poor People’s Campaign. Martin Luther King announced the idea of a Poor People’s Campaign in November, 1967, but was assassinated before the march on Washington occurred.
After King’s assassination in April 1968, SCLC decided to go on with the campaign under the leadership of Ralph Abernathy, SCLC’s new president. On Mother’s Day, 12 May 1968, thousands of women, led by Coretta Scott King, formed the first wave of demonstrators. The following day, Resurrection City, a temporary settlement of tents and shacks, was built on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Braving rain, mud, and summer heat, protesters stayed for over a month.Stanford University. The Martin Luther King, Jr.Research and Education Institute. Poor People’s Campaign, May 12, 1968 to June 24, 1968
Rev. William Barber and others organized a number of events as part of the new Poor People’s Campaign. That effort is struggling to continue, at least locally. Below are photos from some of those events I attended in Des Moines, Iowa.
I imagine Martin Luther King at Standing Rock. Being part of the prayers and nonviolent resistance there. I think what Nahko Bear says below while performing at the Water Protectors Youth Concert at Standing Rock, Sept 8, 2016, evokes the history of nonviolent action by indigenous peoples.
“Remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution. And that is a hard one, because they are so bad (chuckles). When they come at us you just want to hit ’em, you know? Just sit with that. I know it’s tough. They’re going to try to do everything they can to instigate you. But remember what we’re here for. We’re here to create peace for our Mother. We’re not here to create more violence.”Nahko Bear #NODAPL #MniWiconi #RezpectOurWater #AllNationsYouth
I imagine Martin Luther King walking with us on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa, along the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
I imagine Martin Luther King supporting the Wet’suwet’en people in their years of struggle against fossil fuel pipelines, most recently the Coastal Gas Link Project.
In this era of “reconciliation”, Indigenous land is still being taken at gunpoint. INVASION is a new film about the Unist’ot’en Camp, Gidimt’en checkpoint and the larger Wet’suwet’en Nation standing up to the Canadian government and corporations who continue colonial violence against Indigenous people.#unistoten / #wetsuwetenstrong / #wedzinkwa / #nopipelines / #invasion / #thetimeisnow / #waterislife
The Unist’ot’en Camp has been a beacon of resistance for nearly 10 years. It is a healing space for Indigenous people and settlers alike, and an active example of decolonization. The violence, environmental destruction, and disregard for human rights following TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) / Coastal GasLink’s interim injunction has been devastating to bear, but this fight is far from over.
As I’ve been creating this list, I’m realizing, again, there is so much work we have to do. So many people oppressed, so many assaults on Mother Earth. Where do we go from here?
I’m reminded of what Rabbi Michael Lerner said at the memorial for Muhammad Ali because I feel it also applies to Martin Luther King, Jr. The way to honor Martin Luther King is to BE Martin Luther King TODAY.
“So I want to say how do we honor Muhammad Ali? And the answer is the way to Honor Muhammad Ali is to BE Muhammad Ali TODAY. That means us, everyone here and everyone listening. It’s up to us to continue that ability to speak truth to power. We must speak out, refuse to follow a path of conformity to the rules of the game in life.”Rabbi Michael Lerner at the memorial for Muhammad Ali