The demonstrators staging the nationwide die-ins and strikes and generally disrupting life for the self-satisfied Establishment are rankling them for all the usual reasons.
They don't have a single charismatic leader for possible co-optation by the Duopoly. They aren't going through official channels by groveling before politicians, or running for office themselves. They aren't getting out the vote. Their tactics are annoying and loud. And worst of all, they don't have that magical "list of demands" on hand to proffer to the proper authorities at the proper time. (Actually, they do.)
Oprah is pissed because they're not asking her advice, or maybe they should be paying to see the Hollywood version of her MLK biopic production. Al Sharpton is pissed because the young protesters are on to his serial fakery, and he can't co-opt them. And the New York Times is concern-trolling What New Breed of Activists Is This? Do the kiddies even have the necessary stamina to prevail? The Gray Lady helpfully dredged up a prize-winning MLK biographer to make her dull point:
David J. Garrow, a historian and the author of “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” said the impromptu protests that had erupted in recent months were not comparable to the strategies used by civil rights groups of the 1960s, which had clear goals such as winning the right to vote or the right to eat at a segregated lunch counter.
“You could call it rebellious, or you could call it irrational,” Mr. Garrow said of the new waves of protests. “There has not been a rational analysis in how does A and B advance your policy change X and Y?”
Garrow sounds like a real fuddy-duddy, doesn't he? I can just imagine him in his velvet smoking jacket, sniffing his snuff and stroking his chin.Mr. Garrow compared the protesters to those of Occupy Wall Street. “Occupy had a staying power of, what, six months?” Mr. Garrow said. “Three years later, is there any remaining footprint from Occupy? Not that I’m aware of.”
Yo, Garrow. What about income inequality and "the 99%" becoming part of the national political lexicon because of those algebra-challenged protesters? What about the Occupy Sandy disaster relief drive spawning its own national mutual aid movement, what about Occupy Our Homes and StrikeDebt offshoots saving homeowners and tenants from foreclosure and eviction? What about the reason for the Wall Street Democrats' delayed (and probably short-lived) epiphany that even spending a billion bucks won't win you an election when socially aware and pissed-off voters refuse to show up?
It's odd that Garrow, purporting to be a historian and therefore familiar with the government's persecution of King, neglects to mention the role that the FBI and the Homeland Security fusion centers had in monitoring and disrupting Occupy, and the coordinated role the militarized police had in finally obliterating the actual physical camps in what used to be public spaces.
But I digress. Back when King marched and spoke and wrote, he too was marginalized, he too was derided as an extremist by the Powers That Be. Before his death, he scored very low on those vaunted (and rigged) public opinion polls. The vast majority of white Americans thought highly unfavorably of King and his movement. He was actually proud of being called a radical, though, because Jesus and Gandhi had been considered radicals in their times, too.
When they call fighting for justice "radical," you know you've touched a nerve.
King himself, while fighting against segregation and for voting rights, always stressed the importance of the actual bodies of the protesting people themselves, the force and influence that the actual movement of the people exerted in affectuating change at the top. The lists of demands were just part of the strategy.
His last occupation, the one that he didn't live to see, was the Poor People's March on Washington. Its agenda included what King called "non-violent action skills," actions which would never be tolerated today in the heavily weaponized and guarded and cowering and corrupt Capitol. Then, as now, peaceful protest was called "terrorism" by paranoid politicians in service to the rich and powerful and the military industrial complex. Then, as now, the media concentrated on sporadic outbreaks of violence and later larger riots instead of the economic and social issues involved. Then, as now, there was a right-wing backlash. Then, as now, the government responded to activists' demands by calling for a Day of Prayer (shades of MLK Day itself being downgraded to a Day of Service) and appointing task forces and study groups made up of the rich and powerful. Dr. King said,*
"When a government commands more wealth and power than has ever been known in the history of the world, and offers no more than this, it is worse than blind, it is provocative. It is paradoxical but fair to say that Negro terrorism is incited less on ghetto street corners than in the halls of Congress.
I intended to show that nonviolence will be effective, but not until it has achieved massive dimensions, the disciplined planning, and the intense commitment of a sustained, direct-action movement of civil disobedience on the national scale.
The dispossessed of this nation -- the poor, both white and Negro -- live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to life the load of poverty."King planned the virtual occupation of the Capitol, with protesters physically camping out in Congressional offices and other government facilities, and refusing to leave until politicians voted in a living wage law and a jobs bill.
"If you're poor, or if you're unemployed anyway, you can choose to stay in Washington as long as the struggle needs you. And if that official says, 'But Congress would have to approve this,' or 'But the President would have to be consulted on that,' you can say, 'All right, we'll wait.' And you can settle down in his office as long a stay as necessary."Such a mass action today would result in mass arrests, mass rousting, or worse, by the domestic military forces protecting the Homeland Security State. So nowadays, activists are engaging in strikes and boycotts and disruptions in shopping malls, they're shutting down the flow of commerce on interstates, they're even converging in upscale restaurants frequented by the wealthy to stage "Black Brunches."
At last, this year's Martin Luther King holiday is finally about what Martin Luther King actually stood for. I think he would be very happy about that.
I think he would also be very bemused that the digital archive of his writings was made possible today through the self-serving financial generosity of TBTF JP Morgan Chase, responsible for so much of the global misery, poverty and wealth disparity that Dr. King so decried.
(*Above excerpts are from The Trumpet of Conscience, published in 1968 as a compilation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Massey Lecture Series, originally aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and not in the public domain. Yet another irony in the legacy of a man whose championship of the public was his life's mission.)