So yesterday (Jan 16) was Martin Luther King day in Amerika. Must have driven the right fucking bananas. An entire day set aside to the memory of a man who rejected everything they stand for. Democracy Now ran almost an entire hour of excerpts from a couple of his speeches (available at archive.org—an amazing resource), speeches which show why King had to be executed—sorry, assasinated—in 1968. The actions of the Amerikan ruling class had pushed him through the struggle for civil rights in Amerika into making common cause with the oppressed of the world, and into recognizing and speaking about linkage with democratic and revolutionary movements around the world. To quote:
At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called enemy, I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for really involve. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Viet Namese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor. Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of god and brother to the suffering poor of Viet Nam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of Amerika who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world. For the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves Amerika to the leaders of our own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
[“Beyond Viet Nam” 04 April 1967 @ Riverside Church, New York]
(Spelling and punctuation mistakes are my own, made during my transcription from the original speech)
King, by the end of his life, was no longer simply trying to right a wrong in Amerikan society. He seems to have been pushed into a true radicalism, a rejection of the ruling class and its agenda of suppression and control, and into calling for a revolution against them—coded as a “revolution of values” in his speech:
And so such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam but not beyond our calling as sons of the living god. In 1957, a sensitive Amerikan official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of supression which has now justified the presence of US military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary actions of Amerikan forces in Guatemala. It tells why Amerikan helicopters are being used against guerillas in Cambodia, and why Amerikan napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Increasingly by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken. The role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immese profits of overseas investments.
I suspect that King, Abernathy, and even Jackson were the reason for the funding of the extreme right-wing fundamentalist churches in Amerika. King was leading one wing of a movement that might actually have changed the essential nature of power and privelege in Amerika in the sixties. Too many people were becoming active in too many different organizations from civil rights to SDS, that they were forming linkages between them. And the logical result of these linkages? Democratic control over wealth and privelege. When King says;
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing oriented society to a person oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside. But that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed, so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
There doesn't seem to be that much difference between King andCharles A. Reich's Greening of America (that would change the political structure only as its final act), the position of the Berkley Free Speech Movement (Mario Savio's speech is still extraordinarily moving and powerful—not the least because of his subsequent rejection of lionization), Students for a Democratic Society, or even the Youth International Party. As Dylan said; “there was music in the cafés at night/a revolution in the air” (Tangled Up In Blue).
Such thinking is pretty much mainstream today; Chomsky mentions that when he travels to “red states” to speak these days (itself a massive change in Amerika's willingness to be exposed to radical criticism), media manipulation, manufacture of consent, and the assumption that power is lying is the new baseline for discussion.
Nothing changes, really. Not without the will of the supressed. King's words are as hopeful and relevant as they were when he spoke them in 1967;
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation it will look across seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries and say “ this is not just”. It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say “this is not just”. The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay a hand on the world order and say of war that this way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. Th[ere] is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.
For more of King's speeches check:Pacifica Radio Archives.