What I fear most is that we’ll give up. “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”
MLK said those exact words at a church in Selma the day after Bloody Sunday, but they’re rarely quoted. Instead a much shorter paraphrased version is attributed to him, even though he didn’t say it: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Thus our age began.
The explosion of electronic media congests the intellectual marketplace so badly that everything has to be reduced. Complex expressions become emoji. Policy is limited by Twitter length.
All this while so far there is no governor on the throttle, no fact-checker to take out lies and worse, no mediator to make whole an idea.
So there’s no truth. No way to fairly justify action or belief. Policy grows hollow, the omphalos pierced and snipped off by needles of fear. Weary we become then finally just accept our palsy wickedness.
Even “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that” – the most oft quoted attributed to King – is not real. In fact most of the famous MLK quotes were never said by the man.
It’s simple why. He said simple things in very non-simple ways. He was a preacher. He was a poet who built his idea with rhythm and rhyme. When they finally came out they were Sherman Tank Ideas, wholesome, undeniable and indestructible.
Too long for Twitter.
Last year I wrote, “Everyone is becoming numb. We chuckle quietly hopeful of some relief. We go about our business as if nothing has happened, as if there is nothing special about today. Most offices, even cultural institutions, are acting today as if Martin Luther King never existed.”
Three years ago I wrote, “It’s unthinkable. I mostly expect a week from today I’ll reread these words and smile to myself, reaffirming my lack of understanding American politics. Running a contentious issue up to the wire somehow advantages one or other of the opposing viewpoints, or so the advocates believe.
“Then all we’ll have to deal with are the psychological scars, job displacement and negative economic impact all of this has had. The better of us will point out what a waste the fight was, another meaningless battle in the long and violent history of America.”
Today should be a day for celebrating Dr. King’s poetic prophesies, his clarity of goodness and spirit of inspiration – no matter how intricate or time-consuming to understand.
Societies need holidays, just like they need 40-hour work weeks with two days off. But instead we go to work, today, fearful that productivity might no longer Trump GNP.
Yes the royal stock market is closed, the impeachment delayed a day, schools and federal offices by law shut or cut back… But most of us are working. Many college classes have restarted. Better wage laws don’t rate working today as overtime.
Not-for-profits – theoretically working for the good of an MLK-inspired society – continue their meetings to discuss the next week’s programs blind to the program of complicity that they are themselves propagating.
Politicians use MLK as an anagram leading a campaign march for power to overturn a fallen phallus that’s too heavy for them to lift.
It’s no longer a holiday of remembrance. It’ something that fits on Twitter.