MLK Day Poem

I have attended Toledo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Unity celebration for many years.  Today, I decided to pass on this year’s “show” (yes, the organizers used the term “show” to describe the festivities).  In recent years, I have seen this ceremony devolve largely into a whitewashed view of Dr. King and his difficult, unpopular work.  Not surprisingly, dead prophets are much more popular than living prophets.  From these “shows” in recent years, you’d think that MLK was the leading purveyor of generic volunteerism, charity detached from justice, flying a banner of “why can’t we all just get along” rather than “put some skin in the game for justice.”  These reinventions of Dr. King are dangerous since they transmute his hard fought battles and crucifixion by gunfire into a cheerleader for the status quo, the powers that be.  The image that comes to my mind is the rich and powerful atop their fortress of money, status and power looking down upon the masses calling for smiling faces and “positive” attitudes in the face of their unjust privilege and recalcitrance.  Instead, we should be calling out institutional classism and racism, perpetual wars (even the failed so-called war on poverty), wage slavery, income inequality, and reigning plutocracy.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed--Martin Luther King, Jr. T-SHIRT

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed–Martin Luther King, Jr.

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2014, I am issuing a reprise of my epic MLK poem which I wrote two years:

Owed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rekindle the story
Of Martin Luther
King, Jr.
An unequaled story of two halves
Those who halve
And those who halve not
As far apart as North is from South
A Protest-ant leading a Reformation
To not have a preyer
What kind
Of moral fiber
In a sea of White
To pick
A fight
Bringing
Not even
A knife
To a gunfight
At the OKKK corral
Taking a beating
All that they can give
To the man
A hymn
Of racial harmony
Effacing off
With ballads
Against the elect
Impervious to ballots
Votes cast
Both sides agree to only won thing
Nobody wants even one King
Let alone a King, Jr.
And resistance is feudal
Incredible odds must be faced
At least
Hate to won
How to right a bout
A fray sew
Epic
Verses
Governors, mayors, and sheriffs
Wee the people
Wile police do the bidding of property owners
That would be U.S. versus “them”
Nationwide there would be no holiday
For aegis to come
With their eye halve a dream speech
Portending
Something between a White Christmas
And some Valentines Day massacre
Like anyone could be that cupid
Fêted
That somebody will eat Jim Crow
The too haves
Called out
“Be patient”
“Change takes time”
Like a sentry
Long asleep at his post
For a bad check
100 years overdue…

view the full MLK Day poem here.

You can also download a free mini-poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Obama “I have a dream…I have a drone.”  Surely, if Dr. King were alive today, he would be speaking out against and taking action against drone killings.

Martin Luther King Day history and reflection

Martin Luther King Day is coming up on January 20, 2014.  MLK Day is celebrated in the U.S. on the third Monday of every January.  The first official celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as a federal holiday in the U.S., was 1986. This upcoming MLK Day will be the 29th annual celebration.  Many younger folk will not remember a time without a MLK Day holiday.  However, much like Dr. King’s long-haul struggles, getting an official King holiday met with strong resistance for a long time.

As told here:

“Congressman John Conyers, an African-American Democrat from Michigan, spearheaded the movement to establish a MLK day. Representative Conyers worked in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and was elected to Congress in 1964, where he championed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Four days after King’s assassination in 1968, Conyers introduced a bill that would make January 15 a federal holiday in King’s honor. But Congress was unmoved by Conyers’ entreaties, and though he kept reviving the bill, it kept failing in Congress.

In 1970, Conyers convinced New York’s governor and New York City’s mayor to commemorate King’s birthday, a move that the city of St. Louis emulated in 1971. Other localities followed, but it was not until the 1980s that Congress acted on Conyers’ bill. By this time, the congressman had enlisted the help of popular singer Stevie Wonder, who released the song “Happy Birthday” for King in 1981, and Conyers had organized marches in support of the holiday-in 1982 and 1983, respectively.

Conyers was finally successful when he reintroduced the bill in 1983. But even in 1983 support was not unanimous. In the House of Representatives, William Dannemeyer, a Republican from California, led the opposition to the bill, arguing that it was too expensive to create a federal holiday and estimating that it would cost the federal government $225 million annually in lost productivity. Reagan’s administration concurred with Dannemeyer’s arguments, but the House passed the bill with a vote of 338 for and 90 against.

When the bill reached the Senate, the arguments opposing the bill were less grounded in economics and more reliant on outright racism. Senator Jesse Helms, a Democrat from North Carolina, held a filibuster against the bill and demanded the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) make public its files on King, asserting that King was a Communist who did not deserve the honor of a holiday. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had investigated King throughout the late 1950s and 1960s at the behest of its chief, J. Edgar Hoover, and had even tried intimidation tactics against King, sending the civil rights leader a note in 1965 that suggested he kill himself to avoid embarrassing personal revelations hitting the media.

King, of course, was not a Communist and had broken no federal laws, but by challenging the status quo, King and the Civil Rights Movement discomfited the Washington establishment. Charges of Communism were a popular way to discredit people who dared speak truth to power during the 50s and 60s, and King’s opponents made liberal use of that tactic.

When Helms tried to revive that tactic, Reagan defended him. A reporter asked Reagan about the charge of Communist against King, and Reagan said that Americans would find out in around 35 years, referring to the length of time before any material the FBI gathers on a subject could be released. Reagan later apologized, and a federal judge blocked the release of King’s FBI files.

Conservatives in the Senate tried to change the name of the bill to “National Civil Rights Day” as well, but they failed to do so. The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 78 for and 22 against. Reagan capitulated, signing the bill into law.”

It wasn’t until November 2, 1983, that President Reagan signed the bill that made Martin Luther King Day an official federal holiday, to be first celebrated on January 20, 1986.

I have a tradition of attending our local community-wide annual MLK celebration.  In Toledo this event is called a “unity” celebration.  I find the theme of unity somewhat incongruous with the divisive issues that Dr. King boldly and controversially confronted and persistently pursued.  These celebrations seem much closer to “have a nice day” than “get jailed for justice.”  While I consider it a victory to have won official recognition of Dr. King’s life and life’s work in the form of a governmental and nationwide celebration, the institutionalization of Dr. King’s institution-challenging message and life’s work is problematic.  Of course, hard-fought victories can never be permanently institutionalized, but must be fought and re-fought by spirited and compassionate folks across generations.  Institutions tend to be guardians of the past and the status quo.  Fully alive people need to secure the day and the future.  Like they say: activism is the rent you must pay for living on this planet.  Otherwise our lives will face foreclosure.

Of course, MLK Day cannot expect to be immune from the inane, monetizing, unjust powers that be — just like every other holiday (formerly holy day).  You can expect way more people to get excited about businesses selling discounted merchandise of MLK Day, or most any other holiday, than righteous and indignant people overturning the moneychangers’ stranglehold of debt on working people or their insistence to monetize every ideal or spiritual venture.  Every celebration is met with a tsunami of merchandising.  Buy your sweetie something expensive, commensurate with your love — which can’t be bought, but may be sold.  Celebrate dead presidents by spending dead presidents.  Buy some munitions for Independence Day.  Honor veterans by living out the consumers’ creed: Live, Work, Buy, Die.  Thanksgiving has been overrun by the commercialization of Christmas.  Perhaps this is not surprising, since the Christmas season now reaches before Halloween.  Martin Luther King, Jr., quite aptly, is in good company with Jesus.  Yet the eternal question remains: Is MLK Day just a day off?

FREE POSTER: MLK I Have a Dream, Obama I Have Drone

To celebrate the legacy of peace and justice of Martin Luther King, Jr. this upcoming MLK Day 2013, I have designed this free downloadable poster: “MLK I Have a Dream, Obama I Have Drone”

You can download this free 8-1/2 X 11″ Martin Luther King Poster – “MLK Dream, Obama Drone” here

Download Free Martin Luther King Obama Poster

This Martin Luther King Jr. design is a little edgier than many of my MLK designs.  However, in meditating upon our upcoming local MLK celebrations in Toledo, Ohio, I recognize that the profound edginess of MLK’s body of work for peace and justice is often turned into some kind of namby-pamby niceness and abstraction of pure intentions.  Of course, this overlooks the hard-core and often very unpopular work that MLK conducted.  I was extremely disappointed, as were so many others, when President Obama gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.  While Mr. Obama typically finely targets his fine rhetoric to his audience, his speech to the largely pacifist aficionados of the Nobel Peace Prize was nothing less than crude apologetics for violence.  Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric has been fully incarnated into deadly policy with his escalation of killer drones initiated by Pres. George W. Bush.

I plan on passing out free buttons to participants of our local MLK celebration.  I expect that many people will be a little reluctant at the harsh juxtaposition of Martin Luther King Jr. and his idealistic and famous “I have a dream speech” with President Obama’s droning on with killer strikes, raining death on mostly civilians and often children. Mr. Obama’s killer drone strikes is perhaps this millennium’s best example (so far) of a blatant violation of international law and national sovereignty.

The timely and timeless question: what would MLK do?  Is appropriate especially for MLK Day, and every day in 2013.  What say you?

View Martin Luther King, Jr. designs (available on buttons-pin, T-shirts, stickers, bumper stickers, caps, mugs and more)