Martin Luther King Would Still Fuck Your Shit Up (2011 Edition):
See, as we become more and more slack in our celebrations of Martin Luther King Day, our understanding of what King actually believed slackens, too. For many people in America, King is that dream guy who judged everyone on character, not skin color. Rhetorically (and with full knowledge of the historical implications of the reference), King has had his balls cut off by people who want to pervert his demands for justice into something innocuous and inoffensive. They want to make him into their mascot as a way of justifying their awful beliefs. Glenn Beck claiming that he and King believe the same thing? You may as well have a puppet of Abbie Hoffman's skeleton doing recruiting commercials for the Marines.
Because King believed in nuts-and-bolts action, not mere words. And he believed, wholeheartedly that government was part of the solution, not an impediment to social justice. Here he is in a 1964 version of his "American Dream" speech, delivered at Drew Univesity in Madison, New Jersey: "Now the other myth that is disseminated is the idea that legislation and judicial decrees and executive orders from the President cannot really solve the problem of racial injustice, only education and religion can do that. Now certainly a half-truth is involved here: if the problem is to be solved ultimately, hearts must be changed and religion and education must play a great role at this point. But it is merely a half-truth, for it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless." He added, ironically, tragically, "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important also."
In a 1965 version of the same speech, this time delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, King said, "[W]e must join the war against poverty and believe in the dignity of all work. What makes a job menial? I’m tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes it menial is that we don’t pay folk anything. Give somebody a job and pay them some money so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life. And no matter what the job is it takes on dignity.
"I submit to you when I took off on that plane this morning, I saw men go out there in their overalls. I saw them working on things here and there, and saw some more going out there to put the breakfast on there so that we could eat on our way to Atlanta. And I said to myself that these people who constitute the ground crew are just as significant as the pilot, because this plane couldn’t move if you didn’t have the ground crew. I submit to you that in Hugh Spaulding or Grady Hospital, the woman or the man who goes in there to sweep the floor is just as significant as the doctor, because if he doesn’t get that dust off the floor germs will begin to circulate. And those same germs can do injury and harm to the human being. I submit to you this morning that there is dignity in all work when we learn to pay people decent wages. Whoever cooks in your house, whoever sweeps the floor in your house is just as significant as anybody who lives in that house. And everybody that we call a maid is serving God in a significant way. And I love the maids, I love the people who have been ignored, and I want to see them get the kind of wages that they need. And their job is no longer a menial job, for you come to see its worth and its dignity.
"Are we really taking this thing seriously? 'All men are created equal.' And that means that every man who lives in a slum today is just as significant as John D., Nelson, or any other Rockefeller. Every man who lives in the slum is just as significant as Henry Ford."
A janitor is as important as, say, Bill Gates? In this America, it's unimaginable to say such a thing. It's why King believed it was incumbent upon the government to guarantee income and health care and housing: because everyone should be given an equal playing field to attempt to achieve the American Dream, that it didn't belong to the privileged alone. To express a belief in the necessity of government as a force for good in our daily lives is not allowed now. It is not part of our debate anymore, as watered down a position as almost every one of Martin Luther King's.