Posts filed under ‘Civil Rights Movement’

You have a voice so use it

Having celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day for what I had assumed to be my whole life, I learned otherwise today. [I recall vaguely some nonsense about a few states that didn’t celebrate the holiday in the early 90’s, which seemed so absurd that I was sure that boycotts and/or full out evacuations of New Hampshire, Arizona and South Carolina would occur in protest.] Apparently MLK Jr. Day did not become an official holiday until 1986, and there was a serious amount of organizing, mass demonstrations and pressure to get it passed in 1983. Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation for the holiday for the first time in 1968, yet it took fifteen years after Dr. King’s assassination to push it through Congress, and even then Reagan would have vetoed it if he could have. That’s moral depravity. You can read more about the work put into making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a reality here.

This isn’t a holiday for one person, but for a whole movement, a time to contemplate centuries of injustice that we manage to ignore or disregard so frequently. Dr. King did not carry the Civil Rights Movement, he was not the lone catalyst, and he was not the only one that the cost of participation was his life. A movement requires participation on so many levels, all sorts of tactics, bravery, an unwavering sense of justice and overwhelming commitment to see it through.

Rosa Parks didn’t just refuse to give up her seat on the bus one day [and she wasn’t the first to ever do it], she was an organizer who had worked with the NAACP for decades, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t magically happen by itself.

I gave my nephew a book about Congressman John Lewis [“John Lewis In the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement”] to read, and at one point he looked up and exclaimed: “He got bashed in the head 3 times and he still got back on the bus, why would anyone do that?” It is hard to explain abstract ideas about movements and justice to children sometimes, especially when illustrating that there are things worth getting a skull fracture for, or that anyone would ever have reason to be so angry about where you sat on a bus that they would fracture your skull in an attempt to kill or stop you.

From lunch counter sit-ins, to marches, to Freedom Schools, Freedom Riders and voter registration, people put their lives and their communities on the line for a better world. The Civil Rights Movement’s fight for justice still goes on, and their efforts sowed seeds for hope and dreams that led to powerful feminist, antiwar, glbttqi, economic justice and other movements.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN while speaking to sanitation workers on strike for just wages and better treatment, a year to the day after his “Beyond Vietnam” Speech at the Riverside Church in NYC on the injustice of war. Dr. King was speaking more and more on the connections between injustice and racism abroad to injustice and racism at home, which seemed to scare people in power and the media even more than everything that came before. Juan Cole reflects on the importance of Dr. King’s antiwar message and its relevance today here. Below you can hear the Riverside speech with current images:

The Civil Rights Movement isn’t over and we must continue to make the connections between movements to create lasting change by upending the roots of injustice rather than fighting the branches independently. There’s work to be done, but for at least this one day a year we can reflect on how far we’ve come.

So in an election year, when people find themselves annoyed by the excessively long hype of the presidential candidates, we have to remember that voting has been viewed as so dangerous that it was worth killing people to intimidate others from trying or fighting for the right. You have a vote and a choice, so ignore the nonsense and educate yourself to make a real decision; they really don’t want you to be engaged in the process, so make sure that you are.

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January 22, 2008 at 10:18 am Leave a comment


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