50 Years Later, We Still Have a Dream

For the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the NYC Light Brigade, Veterans For Peace, Get Equal, and activists from across the country have illuminated the message: “We Have A Dream – Jobs Not War.”

We need a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom every bit as much today as we did fifty years ago.

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Fighting for a dream still unfulfilled

The shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. looms large over inaugural weekend. The holiday celebrating Dr. King happens to coincide with Inauguration Day. A new King memorial resides on the Tidal Basin on the opposing side of the National Mall from the spot where the 44th President will take the oath of office on King’s own Bible.

The Inauguration takes place of course in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia. The residents of the majority-black District aren’t living the full-color version of King’s dream. The District’s license plates say, “Taxation without Representation,” and for many, obtaining statehood for DC is a campaign for full citizenship. “We have been a colony of the rest of the states of this country,” said a speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Walk, which celebrated the civil rights hero on January 19. “We need to become a state, the state of New Columbia.”

Statehood wasn’t the only thing on the minds of marchers remembering Dr. King. The event kicked off in Anacostia, an area of Southeast DC which suffers significant social and economic problems. With high unemployment, half of all its residents collect food assistance, and household income and wealth stagnate at the bottom of the pile in a city that ranks as one of the highest in wealth inequality.

It perpetually competes for resources. For example, the community is resisting the proposed closure of 15 schools in the District, which they claim disproportionately affects black residents.

Another speaker decried that, while the declining violent crime rate was a good trend, 88 murders in the District in 2012 “is still too many.” Several others assailed the high incarceration rate of young black men–one in three black men will do time in their lifetimes–as a devastating indicator of racial inequality.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Let us be dissatisfied.” Black communities like Anacostia are communities is distress, not because of the moral failings of individuals or certain cultures, as conservatives claim. It’s because the structural edifice of our society remains racist.

Civil rights activist Dick Gregory: “I don’t deal in dreams” [VIDEO]

John Zangas interviews comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace March in Washington, DC. Gregory says he prefers accomplishments to dreams. He also thinks that the FBI and CIA pose an even greater threat to social movements today than they did in the 1960s.

JZ: So you feel the dream is still alive?

DG: I don’t deal in dreams. Dreams are dead…. All those trifling things, they never say dreams. The electric chair, that ain’t no dream. It’s real. The only thing I didn’t agree with, he said we should overcome “someday.”

Cool Quote of the Day

ZUMA Press/Newscom/File

There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case. For the person who hates, you can stand up and see a person and that person can be beautiful, and you will call them ugly. For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does. You can’t see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater. […] when you start hating anybody, it destroys the very center of your creative response to life and the universe; so love everybody. Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life. So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama on November 17, 1957

Cool Quote of the Day: “Tied in a single garment of destiny”

Occupy Caravan vigil at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Awake for a great revolution

There are all too many people who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in our world today. It is a social revolution, sweeping away the old order of colonialism. And in our own nation it is sweeping away the old order of slavery and racial segregation. The wind of change is blowing, and we see in our day and our age a significant development. Victor Hugo said on one occasion that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. In a real sense, the idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity. Wherever men are assembled today, the cry is always the same, “We want to be free.” And so we see in our own world a revolution of rising expectations. The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this social revolution.

-Martin Luther King, Jr., Commencement address for Oberlin College, 1965

 

Cool Quote of the Day

Before being in jail, it was hard for me to understand what Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi meant when they said that prisons are the temples of freedom. It’s clear that they can do many things to your body and try to oppress you and use psychological violence. But there’s something so strong inside each of us, the human spirit, that they can not reach. They can put you in shackles and cold cement cells, and feed you horrible food, and put you in solitary confinement, but there’s no way that they can reach the human spirit. That was powerful—to find once again that that part is sacred.

– Pancho Ramos-Stierle, who was arrested while meditating during the police raid on Occupy Oakland on Nov. 14, 2011

Pitching a Tent of Dreams

When I arrived at McPherson Square that Monday afternoon, all I could think was, “Good god, what have they done? Are they crazy?” Yes, I knew instantly that the DC Occupiers were crazy in a daring and stupid way. At the same time a giddy, elated feeling arose in me, and I also knew that they were crazy in a bold and beautiful way. The Tent of Dreams was already casting a spell on me.

We all knew that weekend that Occupy DC was under grave threat, particularly McPherson Square, which didn’t have a permit like its sister protest at Freedom Plaza. Following the hearing of the House Oversight Committee the previous week and under political pressure, the National Park Service announced that it was going to enforce its “no camping” regulations. Park police officers posted flyers at the camps making clear that enforcement would go into effect at noon on Monday.

Tension was high. No one knew exactly how this would play out, whether the Park Service had found a way to gradually kick Occupiers out by giving them citations and barring them from returning, or if this was the harbinger of a Zuccotti Park or Oakland-style eviction. It seemed like everyone anticipated a paramilitary police invasion promptly at the stroke of noon, although that scenario was unlikely to say the least. A call went out for all Occupy DC supporters to come to McPherson at midday–ready, it was assumed, to defend the Square.

A blaze of blue rose up from the center of the park. A huge tarp draped the statue of the General, except it was no longer Lee McPherson straddling the fiery steed high above our heads, it was Guy Fawkes. The tarp was painted with yellow and white stars, figures and slogans, and large letters spelled out “Tent of Dreams.” Occupiers defiantly stationed themselves at the base of the statue under the tarp. “Oh, shit,” I thought. “They’re toast.”

This deed surpassed even the erection of the OccuBarn on December 4, something that I eventually concluded was misguided and poorly executed, putting the camp in unnecessary jeopardy. The modular, wooden structure was intended to shelter General Assemblies and other meetings and symbolically to highlight the problem of foreclosure and homelessness. McPherson Occupiers seemed not to know that the US Park Police would come down on them like a ton of bricks–which they did as soon as morning light broke.

Although I had been involved with Occupy DC at McPherson Square since early November, the camp at Freedom Plaza was probably a more natural fit for me. A slightly older crowd who tended to work with authorities suited my style of conciliatory activism and preference for nonviolence than the younger, more radical crowd at McPherson Park. They had often disappointed me with high tolerance for drugs, alcohol, and unacceptable behavior and reflexive hostility toward police or any authority. Yet I was drawn to them and not Freedom Plaza. Freedom Plaza was boring, frankly. The McPherson Occupiers always made the news, were the news, for good and bad reasons.

Now a huge tent on the sacred icon of the General? Not even George W. Bush could say “Bring it on!” in such clear and unambiguous terms. The raid didn’t happen immediately. It was five days later when the Park Police invaded at dawn with full paramilitary force. The subsequent compliance inspection exceeded the scope of recent court rulings and, with the sleep ban, was the equivalent of eviction.

The Tent of Dreams was folly, I thought, wrecking any chance the camp had for compromise and survival, and given the outcome five days later, maybe that was true. Yet the striking appearance of the Tent and its symbolism was palpable. It became the image seen throughout the nation if not the world that day. My 40-something sensibilities weakened, and I began to believe in revolution again like a 20-something. I got a vision from the Tent of Dreams.

That day the Occupiers chanted, “Let us sleep so we can dream.” Sleeping in the park was something that the Park Service was trying to prohibit, according to their definition of camping versus protest. DC Occupier John Zangas argued that “sleep is a human right,” not that sleeping in a park is allowed under the law. I knew that much of the camp was made up of homeless people, who wouldn’t have anywhere to sleep if the camp was evicted. Before Occupy DC and after, the homeless have no legal right to sleep and are not only exhausted but deprived of dignity because of it. Zangas continued, “If moral correctness doesn’t coincide with legal correctness, then [we] need to be morally correct.”

“Let us sleep so we can dream.” Sleep invokes dreams. If I could never fully square the presence of Occupations with fair application of urban statutes, I’ve supported them because of the overwhelming knowledge of our loss of power as citizens. Bit by bit, our civil rights have been whittled away, our economic worth decimated, and our votes rendered worthless to an unprecedented degree. There is nothing left but to get out on the streets. To Occupy. To dream of taking back our power and our dignity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream.” To make that dream a reality, he asked people to consult an inner compass that knows what dignity is, what our true inherent rights as human beings are. The Day of the Tent of Dreams taught me something: to be unapologetic in asserting that moral compass, to be bright and bold and beautiful. And that big dreams will come to pass only if many people dare to dream them together.

Cool Hero of the Day: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Speech at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967

…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 immense profits of overseas investments. 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.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the 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 hand on the world order and say of war, “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 defense 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. There 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. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

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.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”

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.