Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson

Another MLK Day has come and gone. One day a year when his biblical voice of profound leadership and inarguable bravery is played back in familiar snippets for those who still recall his immeasurable service to all Americans.

That remembrance is slipping away.

Despite Ferguson, or the movie “Selma,” for many today the immediacy of Martin Luther King’s message is lost, relegated to someone else’s history. Some still protest the holiday itself, galled by the very notion of equating King with our white founding fathers, incapable of admitting that King was both a great man and, even worse, an exceptionally great American. Others just give it very little attention, just one more distraction among so many. Most, minimally know that he had a “dream” and was killed because of both the color of his skin and the content of his character.

“King’s dream remains unrealized.” That is the yearly commentary, the media refrain, the annual takeaway. Every anniversary resounds that lamentable note. Those even casually informed know that. But, that recognition motivates few to do more than give it the same resignation applied to so many other American difficulties and disappointments. Inseparable from King’s dream, the American dream remains far too distant, for far too many.

When King was assassinated, he was waging a war on income inequality and opposing the Vietnam War’s endless cost at the expense of the working poor. The conspiracy laden injustice of his death immediately displaced his nonviolent civil disobedience with nationwide riots. The irreplaceability of that loss still confounds all attempts to fill his shoes.

Each anniversary of his birth dodges another call to carry his vision forward, to stand united as one people blind to all that need no longer separate us. As with those holidays just a few weeks previous, we give recognition to the possibilities of rededication, resurrection and salvation and then make mostly empty resolutions we never really hold ourselves to. If we give so little real importance to our professed religious convictions, why should Rev. King’s secular challenge to engage those truths be taken any more seriously?

Maybe the difficulty is that King’s challenge remains too defiant of a supposed “American exceptionalism.” Maybe it’s that we love talking the talk, but have always been far more comfortable standing together separately.

Most of us are just too busy trying to realize our own smaller dreams or conducting the business of America’s compromised promise. It’s now almost unimaginable that America wasn’t forged to enhance business’s bottom line, rather than the essential bottom line of equality, justice, and freedom.

Once, honoring his holiday was big time newsworthy, equal parts controversy and renewed hopefulness. It provided a perennial teaching moment, a benchmark for how far we have come and how much further we have to go. All the major networks participated in lengthy remembrance and celebration, not just C-SPAN. The birthday of the slain icon of civil rights received their fullest observance. Their coverage prompted viewer reflection and furthered national recognition of King’s great accomplishments.

In recent years, however, honoring his legacy has been incrementally relegated to the back of the news cycle bus. Some say it’s because having a black president means we are in a “postracial” era, that the “dream” is as realized as can be expected. Nice try. Wear a hoodie and walk around the block. Income inequity, voter registration obstruction, “right-to-work” oppression, immigration xenophobia, criminal justice injustice, civil liberties infringement, endless military engagement, all continue. Different day, similar struggle. King’s accomplishments are being systematically undermined, yet America’s rampant attention deficit barely notices.

Just a year ago, Edward Snowden’s notoriety reigned supreme in his attempt to follow MLK’s example of unlawful, but moral, political action. Like King, he was soon labeled “America’s most dangerous man.” Now, no mention of him at all. He is all but forgotten. His warning that, “The public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless,” goes as unheeded as King’s still timely sermons.

King had an unwelcome dream. Today’s “DREAMers” are also persona non grata. We, more and more, willingly give up our freedoms to a “shadow” government, but can’t abide bestowing citizenship to our shadow citizenry. We’ve finally elected a black leader to the White House, though one who largely ignores the plight of a black America where incarceration is 6 times more likely, where 1 in 3 black men are felons permanently denied King’s hard won victory in securing their right to vote.

Looking in the mirror, no wonder we hurry past a holiday remembering a martyr who challenged the status quo to bring about real democracy. If we continue to take yearlong holidays from that still necessary work, then it would seem that those that would rescind such an important national observance have essentially won.

Rev. Dr. King set a new course for America. It is long past time to rewalk his heroic path.

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Gary Anderson lives in Bath.


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