Danny Cardwell's picture

    Birth of A Myth, Death of A Dream

    Monday was the 54th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech. Americans took to social media and proved once again why this speech is possibly the best and worst rhetorical device for confronting systemic racism in America.

    Dr. King's speech was a mix of the Bible, America’s founding documents and some of his earlier sermons. His words were seamlessly woven into a message that condemned the status quo while simultaneously offering a prophetic vision of a better day. Dr. King talked about the hope that came with the end of slavery and the heartbreak that followed when Emancipation turned into a 100-year nightmare sponsored by Black Codes, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. His words aren’t the problem; the willful distortion of those words and his legacy undermine the events of that day.

    Reactionaries use Dr. King to shame those involved in protests they don’t support. This is a reflexive response. Black people are bombarded with images of MLK anytime the nation is forced to talk about race.This method of deflection does nothing to address the issues at the center of a particular conflict. Almost fifty years after his assassination there are Americans who believe Dr. King didn’t cause the kind of racial discomfort they feel about Black Lives Matter or American Flag protests.

    America has an uncomfortable relationship with black activism. There appears to be two acceptable forms of civil engagement: passive or past tense. Passive activists are America’s darlings. Their soft shoeing approach to race doesn’t ruffle any feathers. These activists place white feelings ahead of justice. This isn’t who Dr. King was. His indictments against the America he inherited were damning. Some of his tactics were just as violent as bricks crashing through plate glass. The yearlong bus boycott he helped lead caused just as much economic damage to the bus lines and businesses in Montgomery, Alabama as a riot.

    Dr. King’s murder made him eligible for America’s posthumous resurrection program. When an activist dies their message is edited and made more palatable for future generations. Their critiques of America and white supremacy are replaced by a message that asks future generations of black activists to suffer in silence or follow a set of protest requirements that assure nothing changes. In other words, you can live and be ineffective or die and have your message appropriated.

    The same people who chastise Black Lives Matter for not being more like Dr. King moved the goalposts of acceptable nonviolent protest far enough to exclude kneeling in silence. There is no acceptable way to draw attention to the continuing racial disparities in America. When we boycott businesses that discriminate against us we are called economic terrorists, when we write or talk about discrimination we are called race hustlers, and when black athletes refuse to pledge their allegiance they get blacklisted. America writ large has never endorsed any protest that forces us to look in a mirror.

    There is a lot to be learned from the sermonizing and writing of Dr. King. His ability to weave secular and religious texts into road maps for the future was pure genius. The hope contained in that speech will live forever. The March on Washington is an immutable part of American history. That event can’t be scrubbed from history, but it is being distorted. If Martin's dream is to be realized the myths associated with his life need to be as violently assassinated as he was.


    The same people who chastise Black Lives Matter for not being more like Dr. King moved the goalposts of acceptable nonviolent protest far enough to exclude kneeling in silence. There is no acceptable way to draw attention to the continuing racial disparities in America. When we boycott businesses that discriminate against us we are called economic terrorists, when we write or talk about discrimination we are called race hustlers, and when black athletes refuse to pledge their allegiance they get blacklisted. America writ large has never endorsed any protest that forces us to look in a mirror.

    Yeah, most of us white people born after King died grew up with the idea that he was some sort of Civil Rights Santa, our for equality but also full of love for all the children of all colors and who offered us all peace and harmony in exchange for nothing of substance (for most of us, in exchange for giving up hate that we never even had).

    And it is funny, right.  Why can't you be more like MLK, Colin Kaepernick?  He would never even midly disrupt a pre-game football ritual meant to be enjoyed by people of all colors!  Why can't you be more like Dr. King, BLM protesters? Martin would never interrupt white people at brunch! Can't you be more like Martin, Danny Cardwell, and not write blog posts questioning the myths I was taught as a child? Dr. King is the civil rights leader you'd want to have a beer with, not like that scary Malcolm X.

    The myth of King as the gentle mental giant of civil rights is the foundation of white tone policing as a pushback against reform -- Must you use such language? Must you bring this up now? Must you bring that up here, of all places? Oh, and why must you dress like a thug? Martin wore suits?  Also, he would have dealt with all of these issues in a private meeting with LBJ, not here in public, ahead of a three day weekend!

    This reeks of strawman. I back Kaepernick and still think BLM could have been more effective with stated goals and professional behavior - a la King I guess - as OK notes below. MLK pushed boundaries - he wasn't just out for easy non-controverisial wins, but he did try to play it smart, rather than seat-of-the-pants actions. Yes, some people are upset with Kap, but are they change-seeking liberals? Kap's blowback is similar to any blowback against any liberal action that starts to be effective. You can coulda-shoulda-woulda him all you want, but Kap got some attention for a needed cause. Unfortunately, our retro society managed to kneecap him with a bunch of jingoist "support the troops" and national anthem and whatever. But it was a great guerrilla protest effort that didn't require much organizing or money at all. 

    Not sure we disagree. I'm pro Kaepernick, maybe that got lost in my sarcasm. Thinking BLM could have been more effective is a little different than the outright tone policing by BLM opponents.

    The strawman was Danny's bit that you quoted, not your statement - guess should have done my reply differently.

    Eh, reading could be my friend.

    Don't fight the hand that bleeds you

    Thanks Danny.  If I could redo Mt. Rushmore, the four great Americans I'd immortalize are: Dr. King, Abe Lincoln, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  For me Dr. King's greatness shows up in two ways: First, he was incredibly effective.  As Dion sang so beautifully, "he freed a lot of people."  Second, while his initial and primary focus was on civil rights for African Americans, his message and mission were truly universal.  For example, he fought against the war on the Vietnamese.  Ultimately, he fought uncompromisingly for all poor and working-class people and against the forces of wealth and privilege.  He was murdered for taking the side of union strikers - most of whom were African American - in Memphis.  He wasn't just great.  He was the greatest.

    Hi Hal . . . your overall point is well taken...

    He was murdered for taking the side of union strikers -

    But as to that? I'm an old man with a very vivid memory. In April 1967 I was 21 years old and serving in the US Navy at the time and a witness to the following speech at the Riverside Church in New York City.  I will always maintain my opinion that King was later assassinated one year later to that very day for the following stance he took.

    Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence

    Complete authenticated transcript

    And are the following words he spoke any different today than 50 years ago?

    "These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. 'The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.' We in the West must support these revolutions."





    Thanks OGD.  You may well be right.  He was murdered at a moment when he was siding with organized labor.  But his universalist pro-people anti-exploiter message could have catalyzed the violence in Memphis.  

    He was also, at the time of his death, leading a deeply troubled Poor People's Campaign to try to pressure the federal government to do more in the War On Poverty.    

    He publicly and forthrightly supported so many controversial change efforts, and was so deeply threatening to so many people, that his stances and activities on any number of issues may have played a role in his murder.

    Through his dress and demeanor--an artful blend of conveying respect to people and institutions he pulled no punches in articulately and passionately criticizing--he made it far more difficult for people whose help he knew he needed to dismiss him. One of my reactions to some who relish the dirty hippy MO, sometimes accompanied by flaunting in-your-face nastiness to adversaries, is: Is it worth it to you?  And then I remind myself that their social vision, not just their tactics and strategy, is different from King's.  I know which society I want to live in.

    By love, King seemed to have meant, practically on a societal and global level, intercultural social integration, along with nonviolent conflict resolution.  He is long gone.  His ideas and ideals will never die.  They have been long dormant, in a public visibility sense, in our country.  There are individuals and groups who carry a torch King among many others of his era and before carried.  (King himself was recruited into and initially led by the Montgomery bus boycott organizers, many of whose key members were women barely known or unknown to the history books and invisible in the after-the fact mythology that was created.)  I might add bravely and in the face of indifference or hostility from many.          



    Good description. I particularly like the reminder that he followed as well as he lead.

    I think what OGD was getting at was that King was not only fighting against oppression and poverty in the name of those who suffer the consequences of it but that he was also challenging the military and economic institutions that grew into giants during the Cold War. The radical acceptance of a global community requires the defeat of the agenda of the America First crowd.

    In the same speech:

    A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

    By this measure, we have a hell of a long way to go.

    Hello Moat...

    Oh yes yes yes... A long long ways to go...

    "Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

    As my other go-to guy was to say... War is a Racket.


    Anytime activists push for change there will be push back and it doesn't matter if the movement is predominately black or white. That will include mainstreaming and sanitizing of former activist leaders and using that to constrain present movements. The sanitized version of MLK isn't just used to constrain black activists. It was used to attempt to constrain Act Up, a mostly white activist group, and Occupy Wall Street.

    Protesting isn't a strategy. It's part of a strategy and it needs to be wielded strategically. Act Up and MLK's civil rights movement didn't look at the problems they were seeking to rectify and shout, "Protest." They didn't just run out the door exuberantly looking for something, anything, to protest anyway at all.  What are the goals? What, when, where, and most importantly, how will determine the effectiveness of the protests in achieving those goals. Most times protests are designed to raise consciousness in people not aligned with the movement in the hope of gaining to some degree their allegiance. Bad protest strategy will result in at best a waste of time and energy, at worse be counter productive by turning away possible allies.

    Activist seeking change would be wise to look at the tactics of successful protests like the MLK civil rights movement and Act Up and unsuccessful movements like Occupy Wall Street to attempt to understand why some movements succeed and others fail.

    The problems BLM is facing as it attempts to change abusive police behavior and a biased justice system isn't the attempt to shut them down with the sanitized version of MLK. One of BLM's biggest problems is a lack of specific and achievable goals. This was the point that Hillary tried to make in her interview with activists New Hampshire.

      Contrast BLM with Act Up.

      On October 11, 1988 ACT UP had one of its most successful demonstrations (both in terms of size and in terms of national media coverage) when it successfully shut down the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for a day.[9][10][11] Media reported that it was the largest such demonstration since demonstrations against the Vietnam War. At this action, activists demonstrated their thorough knowledge of the FDA drug approval process. ACT UP presented precise demands for changes that would make experimental drugs available more quickly, and more fairly. "The success of SEIZE CONTROL OF THE FDA can perhaps best be measured by what ensued in the year following the action. Government agencies dealing with AIDS, particularly the FDA and NIH, began to listen to us, to include us in decision-making, even to ask for our input."



      Hillary from Okat link:

       "I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. 

      Former Philly Police Chief Ramsey:

      There are approximately 18,000 departments in the United States," he said. "In my opinion, far too many. And we need to look at a long-term goal. More regionalization, better training, more consistency in policy and procedures."

      He recommended cutting the number of departments in half "because you are always going to have these kinds of issues as long as you have this many departments with different policies, procedures, training and the like."

      Sounds like both on the same page. A federal administration could encourage system/department regionalization, and Ramsey's other points via funding. Reducing # departments and other points would be fought by local cops who don't want oversight but it is a tangible goal and clear objective.

      Reducing # departments and other points would be fought by local cops who don't want oversight but it is a tangible goal and clear objective.

      Strikes me right away from your comment: should have been a no brainer after 9/11/01 but of course, didn't happen anywhere near enough. As regards what's going on right now in Texas, I saw Ret. General Honore on TV the other day ripping it as a disorganized mess. No, we don't want to federalize policing, but in this international day and age (and there are great benefits to being real close with the community) there needs to be a lot more coordination over bigger regions. And, yeah, "policing the police" would be easier then.

      Honore is a fake news loser who didn't see the size of the crowd that turned out for Trump at the Texas refugee center.

      Trumps storm is epic and massive and he has asked all to withhold congratulations for  his leadership on it until later.

      On a serious note, Chief Ramsey's objective to cut # departments in half would be fought by every two bit billy bob who runs his police department like an Afghan warlord, and by Republicans who the billy bobs vote for and $upport.

      I'm certainly not the one to come up with an action plan for BLM. I'm just an outsider looking in without a detailed and comprehensive understanding of laws, regulations and police procedures. I don't know what needs to change and what changes would be easiest or most effective.

      Ramsey's suggestion of regionalization of police forces might help but it seems to me it would be the hardest to implement as you pointed out. I've read some good things about citizen boards providing community oversight of police activity. Mandatory de-escalation training might help. Police and prosecutors love "3 strikes and you're out" laws. Perhaps something like that could be instituted to fire overly aggressive cops who have repeated complaints before it results in death.

      I really don't know but surely there are experts who have deeply studied the subject. BLM needs to find some people who can help them come up with a list of changes they're protesting for. As Hillary said, they need to come up with a plan that details what and how laws need to be changed, what changes do they want in the allocation of resources, and exactly how they want the systems to change.

      I really like your analysis as regards protest here, oceankat. And NCD's addon from Hillary tops it off well.

      Black Lives Matter failed to achieve major accomplishments. We now have a DOJ that is unwilling to focus on police abuse as a problem. The DOJ is refusing to make label white supremacists a source of violence requiring attention. BLM shares company with NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Moral Mondays, and a host of others in halting police abuse. The situation is worse now because projects like the FBI tracking police abuse statistics will fall by the wayside. Black Lives Matter receives a great deal of criticism, but the truth is that no organization fighting police abuse has truly been effective. Beauregard Sessions is Attorney General. Joe Arpaio is pardoned. Voters made a clear statement about the type of law enforcement they want by electing Republicans to the Presidency, the Senate, the House, Governorships, and state legislators. BLM and all the other activist organizations are fighting an uphill battle against Republican reactionaries. Martin Luther King Jr. would be classified a domestic terrorist, just like Black Lives Matter.


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