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Something is happening in our world: Memphis, Cairo, Madison
April 4, 2011 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."
Forty-three years ago today, a man was killed while protecting workers' rights to bargain collectively.
posted by orthogonality (54 comments total) 78 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know if other people are going to come in and dislike the way you framed this, but I just want to say: I LOVE THE WAY YOU FRAMED THIS.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was seen as a threat the second he started talking about the class struggle and poverty struggle that crossed racial lines, and our country remains terrified to the point of assassination of such leaders.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:39 PM on April 4, 2011 [73 favorites]


Sleep
Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized
If the thunder cloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
So let it be
-- "MLK"
posted by kmz at 12:45 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Damn straight, whimsicalnymph. When King said that black people should be equal to white people, he was a nuisance. When he said that poor people should be equal to rich people, that's when he became a threat.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:45 PM on April 4, 2011 [35 favorites]


As Matthew C. Klein pointed out in the NYT, the younger generation is "losing its faith in the future." After being laid off for the third time in two years, I have lost all confidence in corporations and how they could augment society. The rich extract all they can from humanity & the environment while government sits idly by counting the bribes it relies on to live. Enough!
posted by coachfortner at 12:46 PM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Sorry to be so cynical, but bad stuff in the mega way is happening under the evil Gov Tom Corbett in PA, but there's no revolt in progress, as far as I can tell.
posted by angrycat at 12:47 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I LOVE THE WAY YOU FRAMED THIS.

Thanks, but I didn't do the framing. The forces of reaction, after realizing that they could no longer contain black Americans' desires to be free, decided to re-frame Dr. King as solely a promoter of civil rights (and by implication, rights only for blacks).

King, in reality, was a civil rights leader, but so much more as well: a proponent and pioneer of non-violent resistance, a Christian, an opponent of the Vietnam War, and someone who struggled for the rights of the poor, regardless of color.

Had Dr., King lived, he planned a Poor People's March on Washington, potentially even larger than the march for civil rights he led in 1963.

The powerful couldn't ignore King or his legacy, so they reshaped it, made it particular, something "just for blacks", about "special rights for blacks", because they realized how dangerous the truth is to their position.

I'm not framing: I'm giving you the truth. Dr. King died fighting for workers' rights.
posted by orthogonality at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2011 [88 favorites]


He was right when he said he might not get to see the Promised Land, but I'd be willing to bet he didn't think that forty-three years later it would still be out of reach for so many.
posted by tommasz at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by wuwei at 12:50 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


May get flak for this, but I find some of the facts surrounding MLK's murder a bit disconcerting.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 12:58 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Dr. King died fighting for workers' rights.

Yes he did. And that we're having these same conversations all over again shows the indifference that politicians have for the disservice they are doing to his name and the hard work he did.
posted by quin at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sadly enough, the conclusion of Dr. King's speech is blocked on Youtube, because it "contains content from WMG and Syntax Distribution, one or more of whom have blocked it on copyright grounds."

You'd think that WMG or Syntax Distribution or Google could fix this.
posted by orthogonality at 1:29 PM on April 4, 2011


"contains content from WMG and Syntax Distribution, one or more of whom have blocked it on copyright grounds."

The fuck?!
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:31 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's an unblocked conclusion to Dr. King's final speech, on the night before his murder.

It starts just in the middle of his discussion of the Good Samaritan, and just before (emphasis added):
That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.
posted by orthogonality at 1:33 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hellhound on his Trail has a really interesting discussion of the SCLC's reaction to King's Poor People's Campaign and how it was the March was implemented after his death.

Apparently, even within King's own organization there was the sentiment that civil rights and poverty were not indelibly linked. King felt that social and legal equality could only get you so far, but for real equality that was lasting, economics had to change. After his death, the Poor People's March on Washington was designed to shove poverty in the face of America, so none could turn away and hopefully change would begin. What happened was a poorly organized mess that just allowed people to see the ugliness of poverty and justify why they should ignore it.

I think, saddest of all, James Earl Ray came from a family that suffered through some of the most crushing kinds of poverty, the kind of poverty that King desperately wanted to alleviate for people of all color and creed.
posted by teleri025 at 1:44 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Apparently, even within King's own organization there was the sentiment that civil rights and poverty were not indelibly linked.

Maybe it's because of the (somewhat) recent nonsense surrounding Shirley Sherrod, maybe it's because I just got through Season 2 of The Wire last night, but I feel like understanding this link is just about the most important thing we've got to do as a nation, as humanity really, in order to move forward.

But what's that quote about trying to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it?
posted by Navelgazer at 1:52 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The 3rd volume of Taylor Branch's excellent series on Dr. King includes a recounting of a meeting he orchestrated not too long before his death.

He set up a meeting between blacks civil rights leaders, coal miners from Appalachia, Native American activists, and farm workers. All of the participants were quite apprehensive about it beforehand due to the racial/ethnic differences.

But, and I remember being struck by this part of the book, afterwards, they were all amazed at how much they had in common and how a lot of their goals were the same.

Mark me down as one of those who believe that it was shortly after the positive results of that meeting were made known that "They" decided Dr. King had to be killed and his legacy controlled by The Powers That Be. Had King lived, that meeting could have been the beginning of mult-iracial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational wave that swept over the oligarchs.

Not that it would have created some magical happy Paradise land. But as others in the thread have noted, we probably wouldn't still be having some of the conversations we're having about the treatment of the poor and working class and minorities.

Thanks for making this post, orthogonality.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:05 PM on April 4, 2011 [15 favorites]


This is why it's so important to rebut conservatives who've made the jump from "King was a commie" to "the Sainted Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Junior would be on our side today, because he believed in the content of a man's character". Their goal is to geld his ghost, and make his legacy fluffy and non-threatening. But his legacy is threatening. It should be threatening, and we should strive to keep it threatening.
posted by steambadger at 2:13 PM on April 4, 2011 [28 favorites]


These are the same conservatives who forget that Reagan was president of a union of Hollywood actors before he was President of the United States.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:18 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Forty-three years ago my father, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated while he was in Memphis, Tenn., supporting a strike of municipal sanitation workers. It was, in his eyes, more than a quest for a few more dollars in a paycheck. He saw the strike as part of the great struggle of his time—a struggle for democracy, for truth, for justice and for human dignity.

These are the same basic reasons that my father would be joining with millions of other Americans today in supporting public employees in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states, where collective bargaining is now under attack.
Martin Luther King III on his father's legacy and why his father "Would Support the Public Worker Protests".
posted by orthogonality at 2:20 PM on April 4, 2011 [11 favorites]


In a few minutes, I'm walking up the hill to one of the We Are One rallies that are happening all over the country today (I'm heading to the one right behind my office in St. Paul, Minnesota). I can think of no better way to celebrate the life of and promote the legacy of Dr. King than by standing up for economic justice today and every day.
posted by elmer benson at 2:43 PM on April 4, 2011


Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.

You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
MLK Jr, "The Drum Major Instinct", with a hat tip to Bob Somerby.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 2:58 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thrilling speech, too bad I'd have to go to a FSZ to hear a similar one these days.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:03 PM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.

But it help.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:29 PM on April 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Good post. Also, I'd just like to say that I am a socialist and damned proud of it.
posted by Decani at 3:38 PM on April 4, 2011 [7 favorites]


But what if you want to be free from unions?
posted by Faze at 4:22 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are the same conservatives who forget that Reagan was president of a union of Hollywood actors before he was President of the United States.

Reagan forgot that himself as soon as he became president and broke the air traffic controller's union.
posted by riruro at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


But what if you want to be free from unions?

As an employee or employer?
posted by ZeusHumms at 4:30 PM on April 4, 2011


But what if you want to be free from unions?

They'll still drive up salaries and improve bennies in your industry.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:49 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


But what if you want to be free from unions?

Move to Alabama. Go to dental school. Work at Walmart. Start a business importing fine camel-hair brushes from Dubai. Honestly, it isn't that hard to avoid unions these days, if you're so inclined. Of course, if you're in a blue-collar job, you'll have to accept lower pay, work under sub-standard conditions, and kowtow to your bosses; but then, if you want to avoid citrus fruits, you have to accept the risk of scurvy.
posted by steambadger at 4:49 PM on April 4, 2011 [16 favorites]


"They'll still drive up salaries and improve bennies in your industry." And drive that industry straight into the ground. Detroit loved them some unions.

Dr. King was supporting a particular union whose workers were as much, or more so, the victim of racism than anything else.
posted by Carbolic at 4:56 PM on April 4, 2011


And drive that industry straight into the ground. Detroit loved them some unions.
posted by Carbolic at 12:56 AM on April 5


I hear Detroit also loved town names that began with 'D'. Clearly that egregious lapse of judgement contributed to Detroit's economic and social problems too.
posted by Decani at 5:24 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Detroit loved them some unions And America loved them some big cars!

Until they didn't.
posted by Max Power at 5:28 PM on April 4, 2011


I hear Detroit also loved town names that began with 'D'.

Also, Iggy Pop. And Al Kaline. Damn you, Al Kaline!
posted by steambadger at 5:29 PM on April 4, 2011


"They'll still drive up salaries and improve bennies in your industry." And drive that industry straight into the ground. Detroit loved them some unions.

I don't buy that argument for a minute. The "unions kill industry" canard could (and can) easily be refuted by data if management ever opened the books (fully) and showed everyone just how much of the company's profits went towards executive compensation and shareholder dividends when negotiating union contracts.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:30 PM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


right-wing labor-bashers always forget neither executives nor shareholders are unionized
posted by liza at 5:41 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the steel mills went belly up because of the letter P.
posted by Carbolic at 5:56 PM on April 4, 2011


CEOs have labor contracts and a hand picked committee to set their pay and bonus why shouldn't everyone?
posted by humanfont at 6:06 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


And drive that industry straight into the ground. Detroit loved them some unions.

I was going to show you some links to charts showing GDP and net revenue over the last two centuries, including one that divided GDP by M3... Hoping you'd see the evidence would prove your baseless assumptions incorrect. The evidence is compelling...

Then I realized that if you would make that statement here on the blue, you ain't one of them readin' types.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:12 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Separating racism from the struggle for class equality means you don't know why racism exists (and you don't know why class inequality remains trenchant, particularly as it manifests in multiethnic countries like America). Racism is a tool in a larger conflict between groups separated into classes, not individuals. Racism cannot be purged on an individual level through "personal responsibility": it can only be resolved through joining together in union.

There are a lot of consequences when people are unable to understand why racism exists and its link to class.

- Colorblind racism, which makes it impossible to see why and how racial and ethnic groups are so frequently pitted against each other. The more people interact with each other (go to school together, grow up together, work together, attend religious services together, marry each other), the less hold racism has. The group of whites least likely to hold racist views are young, lower-class white women (see Racism with Racists), who also happen to be the most disadvantaged group of whites and the group most likely to interact with disadvantaged racial minorities on a regular basis. The ideology of "colorblindness", combined with the strict separation and distance maintained by white society, makes it hard to see points of similarity between groups.

- Easier to foment discord amongst underclass groups. For example, during Reconstruction institutions and prominent agents from both North and South colluded to use racist policies to deny opportunities for blacks (see The Ethnic Myth). Many Northern states had policies restricting black resettlement, and the federal government's Freedmen Bureau set up sharecropping contracts and Black codes that greatly resembled slavery. Immigrant laborers in the North instigated race riots ostensibly predicated on racism, but at foundation were really fears of competition and decreased wages.

The North needed blacks to stay in the South in order to maintain the cotton industry which was the driving force in the American economy. The South needed blacks to stay because if significant numbers left it would drive up wages, and immigrant laborers were not a suitable replacement (for exploitation) because they were in a position to demand more favorable conditions and shift the power dynamic ("Germans do not aim to become merely day laborers, but landowners"). The Northern economy relied on the exploitation of immigrants and did not need them to leave for land and prosperity in the rebuilding South; while the Southern economy relied on exploitation of black laborers.

- The denial of one of the foundations of America: exploitation for economic prosperity. This is not just a relic of the past. Exploitation is not only one of America's most significant legacies, but it also drives the nation's interaction with less powerful nations. As the American economy destabilizes, there will be more wars and more exploitation, primarily aimed at brown people.

Regardless of the actual income of individuals, brown skin has become associated with lower class. This extends far beyond the normal focus on black-white relations. Even those "model minority" groups such as the Japanese and Koreans, those held up as American heroes, run into an invisible ceiling when trying to move from a management position within the economy to an ownership position (see Piercing the Bamboo Ceiling). Lack of economic power intersects with lack of political power, and racism is often the tie that binds them.

Unchecked (by murder), King's advocacy for class equality could have sent shockwaves throughout the entire American economy. He is already one of the most influential figures in American history, but for all of its successes, the Civil Rights movement did not lift African-Americans to any sense of prosperity and equality as a group. They have not progressed toward assimilation in the way immigrant groups have. And their struggles have been viewed as a separate problem, rather than endemic of America's failure at its core to live up to its ideals of freedom and equality. This failure has an impact on the entire world.

Ah well, enough thinking about interesting things, now I have to go back to doing my actual homework.
posted by Danila at 6:23 PM on April 4, 2011 [19 favorites]


Dr. King was supporting a particular union whose workers were as much, or more so, the victim of racism than anything else.

To me, the implication behind this statement is even more wrong than the whole "Detroit" thing - it doesn't make any sense. Like, is there any evidence or statement from King that's like, "Unions are great for black people! But those white unions over there just drive up prices and strangle the working class!" I haven't seen it.

It is a common conservative tactic to straight up deny King's advocacy for social justice, because it's politically inconvenient to admit that he, say, believed in a living wage (and not just a living wage - a straight up guaranteed income) for all people, black and white.
posted by muddgirl at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


But what if you want to be free from unions?

What if I want to be free from disingenuous demagoguery?
posted by blucevalo at 7:35 PM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Whoa. Sorry. Didn't mean to get all those knees jerking.
posted by Carbolic at 7:51 PM on April 4, 2011


There's a bold lie.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:00 PM on April 4, 2011


But seriously now: if you think Dr King was some sort of proto-Alan Keyes, if you think he wouldn't be considered a left-wing lunatic by today's mainstream, you need to read some source material or something... I'm trying to be outraged by your trollery but honestly it's so half-hearted I can't be bothered. You should get started with the "I've been to the mountaintop" speech in the FPP. Then go read Bearing the Cross, which is 624 pages of Pulitzer-Prize-winning awesome.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:09 PM on April 4, 2011


Really. I was just, rather ineptly, pointing out that Dr. King wasn't assassinated for his pro-labor stance. He wasn't killed because he was "protecting workers' rights to bargain collectively". To imply so is to mis-characterize the situation as it existed at that time. Not saying Dr. King wasn't for the working man but, Jimmy Hoffa was not #2 on James Earl Ray's list.
posted by Carbolic at 8:32 PM on April 4, 2011


Jimmy Hoffa, at least in his later years, wasn't protecting anybody's right do anything. He was just another bought-and-sold greedbag with an eye for the Main Chance. Doctor King, on the other hand, was set on challenging the roots of our economic system. I don't know if he was killed for that, or because he was an uppity nigger, or because Ray heard voices in his head -- but that challenge was what ultimately made him dangerous.
posted by steambadger at 8:52 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really. I was just, rather ineptly, pointing out that Dr. King wasn't assassinated for his pro-labor stance.

Baring a conspiracy, yes. But -- you should realize that civil rights organizing and labor organizing press the same buttons on the reactionary. Both forms of organizing illicit the same rants about "outside agitators" and "upsetting the natural order of things" and "uppity s not knowing their place.

And indeed, the organizers where often the same people: Northerners (black and white), Jews and other "ethnics", idealistic students, and yes, Communists. Outsiders, "outside agitators" all.

Labor in this country did not always work for racial (or sexual) equality, and often in the South, politicians who began as pro-labor populists turned into race-baiting arch-segregationists.

But the Civil Rights Movement after WWII had a lot to do with, not labor in the AFL well-trained trade-unionist sense, but with work against poverty and the exploitation of manual laborers.

posted by orthogonality at 9:04 PM on April 4, 2011


Carbolic, go check out the the links in The Emperor of Ice Cream's comment, paticularly the second one, for a brief summary of information about the very real possibility of a wider conspiracy to assassinate MLK.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:10 PM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it seems like framing MLK's death as a salvo in a "labor" battle is more disingenuous than the right framing him as their own personal libertarian.

He was bigger than either.

What he wanted was simply for the US to stand by its pledge of "all men are created equal" and really let it apply to ALL people. What MLK wanted for the nation wasn't revolutionary, and it wasn't going to upset any applecarts or challenge the capitalist system.

Or, at least, not upset any actual capitalists. The poor, and especially the black poor, were outside the capitalist system. The bourgeoisie was also outside of capitalism, on the other side. They wanted to continue exploiting the poor, and they were going to be pissed.

The problem isn't capitalism, which at its root says that ALL work has value, whether that work is manual, white collar or figuring out how to successfully invest money. The problem is the (relatively few) people with money who want to cheat and NOT work for their money, and create barriers to competition. That is NOT capitalism, and what King was talking about.

(Union rant: unions were created to counteract these people who would exploit the poor. The result? Not universal fairness, but detant. A cold war of big labor versus big employers. Each maintains the other, at the expense of everyone else who isn't invited to the party.)

I don't know why King was shot either. But I do agree that his death halted a lot of progress. This benefited those who would exploit the poor. Not just the fat cats, but also guys like Jesse Jackson, who were able to make a nice living off of the spread between rich and poor; exploiters and exploitees.
posted by gjc at 6:16 AM on April 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Its kind of funny you mention places like Johannesburg (where I've lived, well, north of), Nairobi (where I live now), and Accra (where I've worked a few times. You could redistribute the wealth in any of those locales and you'd go from having ~5% (less, in some cases) of the population being "rich" to 100% of the population being poor.

Now, in America (where I'm from), you could redistribute the wealth and everybody - every last damn citizen, would be fabulously rich by comparison to the former locales.

Let's call a spade a spade: the cry is not always the same.

That said, great post. MLK is a big reason I am in the line of work I am in today.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:43 AM on April 5, 2011


Let's call a spade a spade:

i see what you did there...
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:07 PM on April 5, 2011


I don't buy that argument for a minute. The "unions kill industry" canard could (and can) easily be refuted by data if management ever opened the books (fully) and showed everyone just how much of the company's profits went towards executive compensation and shareholder dividends when negotiating union contracts.

You do realize GM (for example) is/was* a public company, right? And that public companies publish annual reports and feed a shitload of publicly available information that includes (and is not limited to) the stuff you're berating "management" for not disclosing.

* Not sure if it's publicly traded again after it was taken over by the gov't and what's its current status, and too lazy to Google it.
posted by falameufilho at 6:55 PM on April 5, 2011


So is Ford. And they're both unionized and solvant.
posted by garlic at 12:41 PM on April 11, 2011


The problem is the (relatively few) people with money who want to cheat and NOT work for their money, and create barriers to competition. That is NOT capitalism

I don't understand this. Isn't one of the defining features of capitalism, if not the defining feature, private ownership of the means of production? How can owning in lieu of working be not capitalism but cheating, in a system in which private (which I interpret as exclusive) ownership is the foundation?
posted by cheburashka at 9:53 AM on April 29, 2011


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