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23.6.20

The Need For A Martin Luther King Amendment

"All we say to America is, be true to what you said on paper. Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right."


The renewed attack on Martin Luther King Jr. began at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and predictably it came from the white political establishment.

Noam Chomsky's interview for the Michael Brooks show, covered here, is deceptive. As usual, with Chomsky, you have to listen carefully: he is not saying what you think. He is appearing to say something progressive while he's being reactionary. This is why he is wildly popular with people who want to look liberal to their friends but are actually entrenched, small-c conservatives.

In contrast, Martin Luther King in his final speech called for:
 an economic boycott of retail and industry in support of Black rights
⭑ support for trade unions and striking sanitation workers (the reason for his speech)
 Black people to seize their rights, not just to 'have a dream'
⭑ American people to implement the words of the Constitution
 and to mobilize opposition to the Vietnam war

Much is made of the fact that MLK opposed the hurling of bricks and bottles: "we don’t need any Molotov cocktails." Yet he was far more radical than BLM or any proponents of autonomous zones. He proposed to hit the wealthy where it hurt: "and to these massive industries in our country... our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

The elite knew exactly what a powerful strategy MLK was proposing. He opposed their profitable wars and threatened to deprive them of custom, perhaps even of labour.  In return the State Corporatist Media persuaded black churches to expel him. The FBI tracked and bullied him, sending messages urging King to commit suicide. Finally he was assassinated, in a conspiracy involving the state, as a civil court found conclusively in 1999.

MLK's greatest speech was not, 'I have a dream.' It was the one he gave on the eve of his death: 'I may not get there with you but... we, as a people, will get to the promised land. '


Chomsky begins with the statement that the popularity of “Black Lives Matter and the protests is well beyond what it was, say, for Martin Luther King at the peak of his popularity…” As evidence Chomsky cites the NYT article on the supposed 400th anniversary of slavery, that appeared in Sep 2019.

1) Mr Manufacturing Consent is quoting the NYT liberal media as an example of “many years of intensive activism”. Seriously? An article in an establishment newspaper constitutes activism? Moreover there is no rationale for picking Sep 2019 as anniversary of slavery – but it was a very convenient peg for the upcoming protests manufactured by the Corporatist Media.

2) Then he damns MLK with faint praise. Like the political establishment, he conceals the fact that MLK’s greatest speech was not "I have a dream." IT WAS THE ONE HE DELIVERED WHEN HE ALREADY KNEW THE STATE WAS GOING TO KILL HIM, made on the night before his execution. The one that closes with:
"Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.

And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man."

MLK's powerful assertion was not that we should dream -- but that "we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

King: "I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man."
I may not get there with you but... we, as a people,
will get to the promised land. 

As for popularity, MLK was demonized by the media for his opposition to the war in Vietnam. Black churches turned against him: they barred their doors because he opposed the war waged by the Military Industrial Complex for which Chomsky has worked all his life.

It is the Manufactured Consent Media that promotes BLM and minimizes MLK. Chomsky must take us for fools. Chomsky is suggesting that a few bricks and Molotov cocktails represent change? Once the venting of steam is over, the system will remain unchanged.

MLK’s whole point was: Apply the Constitution, Equally to All. You don’t need to specify ‘Black Lives Matter’ if you’ve got:

WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF EVIDENT…
BLM is conditional: black lives matter more or less than what? It reduces a Universal Right to one dependent on relative worth. If the information about Trayvon Martin or George Floyd is shown to be flawed, then in some people’s eyes, the justice of his cause goes away. 
BLM is politically-manipulated, funded by organizations that specialize in virtue signaling. 
MLK anticipated this: "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.... not to be compassionate by proxy."
MLK also anticipated the ineffectiveness of pantomime protests. In his final speech he called for an economic boycott, pointing out that collectively Black Americans are "richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine”. “We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say.. our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
Political strategists can lead us by the nose. Or we can raise our eyes with MLK and make concrete the idea:
… THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, THAT THEY ARE ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR WITH CERTAIN UNALIENABLE RIGHTS.

***

We do need, more than ever in these times, A MARTIN LUTHER KING AMENDMENT to remind us that words mean nothing if we do not live by them.  An obligation to put the grand words of the Constitution into effect, to observe them as MLK urged us to do in these words. Not 'I Have A Dream' but the speech he gave the night before his murder, in which he looked even higher, towards the limitless possibilities of humanity:

"All we say to America is, be true to what you said on paper. Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness…. not to be compassionate by proxy. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be."


Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness…
Mug shot following his 1963 arrest in Birmingham, Alabama

Mid-speech, as gusts of wind slammed the shutters of causing him to flinch according to Billy Kyles, MLK took a rhetorical flight through the history of civilization.

"If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “which age would you like to live in?" - I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

But I wouldn't stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

But I wouldn't stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.­

There's too much confusion - confusion all around


But I wouldn't stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars."



I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars
Full speech of MLK, April 3, 1968, at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee

Sadly Chomsky's conservatism is a looking glass for all of society; a smudged mirror not a view of the stars.  He helps us avoid contradictions and construct an inner, cushy liberalism without the need to follow through with action. Chomsky says it for us. MLK challenged us to speak out and act up, and that made some people uncomfortable and resistant.
“King had a deep and abiding love for his own people, but many turned against him in the last year of his life. The scorn of being unwelcome to preach in black churches was particularly painful. King was being ridiculed by black elites like Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Adam Clayton Powell, Ralph Bunche and even Thurgood Marshall. And for everyday black folk, and for the youth in particular, King’s message of nonviolence was falling on deaf ears. They wanted Black Power.

Sometimes the truth is so subversive and unsettling that people can’t handle it in real time. The terrain of history is dotted with prophetic truthtellers who we came to appreciate much too late. King’s vehement opposition to the war in Vietnam cost him dearly. We now know that King wasn’t so much alone as he was early. And he was right. Indeed, the last year of King’s life is a cautionary tale about what happens to a society that ignores its truthtellers — on racism, poverty, militarism, patriarchy, environmental degradation, white supremacy.” https://time.com/5042070/donald-trump-martin-luther-king-mlk/


Even today, BLM is an easier sell than MLK. 

The reason is uncomfortable. Your average American was, arguably, more independent and free-thinking in King’s time than they are today. They read more, the education system was not yet overloaded, there were more independent black businesses, doctors and lawyers in proportion to the population than there are today. The U.S. was the world’s manufacturer and those skills resided with the people.

Just listen to the language in which King spoke to us! Now combine the latent power of his people with the actions King urged them to take. The potential disruption was far greater than today's transient outburst of anger in a people homogenized by and locked into their digital devices. 

Society cannot yet acknowledge what MLK told us as his life was cut short: that the promised land is there for the seizing - but that if the powers are willing to kill me, what would they do to you?

 Thus NPR can write Despite Swirl Of Conspiracy Theories, Investigators Say The MLK Case Is Closed (April 2018) – and not even mention the 1999 civil trial: “After four weeks of testimony and over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a unanimous verdict on December 8, 1999 after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.” https://thekingcenter.org/conspiracy-trial/

So we cheer BLM as a media-packaged, with the authentic-seeming label of craft beer yet mass produced and comfortingly uniform in taste. At the same time, in our sub-conscious, we still don't confront the words of that grass roots Black preacher who appealed to us on the night before his death to realize how high the stakes are. 

In this speech he returned again and again to the threats against his life, even the one that morning, which  had delayed his flight from Atlanta. Ralph Abernathy had never seen this combination of melancholy, exhaustion and emotion. His final words in closing he took from the Battle Hymn of the Republic, written in 1861 by Julia Ward Howe: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

He had quoted the hymn often. His widow, Coretta, later wondered if he'd been too overcome by emotion to add the last line: “His truth is marching on."

Let us speak it for him.

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