Among the most common refrains one might hear on or around Martin Luther King, Jr. day is “If Martin Luther King, Jr were alive today he would …” and here the speaker or author would no doubt insert evidence that the great civil rights leader would be leading the charge for whatever campaign or cause most inspires the speaker/ author.
No one can say what King would be doing or saying if government agencies at the local, state and federal level (including the FBI and CIA with an assist from a Mafia henchman) had not conspired to murder him.
That many of us have never heard of this trial, but seem to have acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of the toothpaste preferences of American Idol contestants, a belief that there is a substantive difference between Democrats and Republicans, and/or the ability to TWERK is all by design.
So then, what is the conspiracy and what is the truth?
The truth is, Martin Luther King, Jr. was just 39 at the time of his death. He has been dead longer than he was alive. As we spend MLK day browsing the catalogue of the inspiring quotes and actions that MLK left behind and wondering the big “what if” don’t forget that you are alive today.
Furthermore, it is very likely that there is no one conspiring to kill you; not government agencies, mobsters or dull racist fools like James Earl Ray.
When you assess the world you live in and the inequities that are so interwoven within the systems that carry us throughout the average day, what are you going to do about them? Some things have not changed since Martin Luther King’s death. The United States is now, as it was when he said it, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.
Racism, while it takes on a different form now than it did in the 1960s, is still a major force that shapes our culture, our economy and our relationships. Ask yourself if George Zimmerman would be free is we truly lived in a post racist society.
Poverty is now as it was then connected to race, and the wealth divide between the rich and the poor has been growing since Ronald Regan reluctantly signed the bill creating the federal holiday to honor the man who would certainly be fighting for an increased minimum wage to $15 an hour, and fighting to shut down Guantánamo Bay prison, and bring the troops home from all corners of the world and he would certainly be Occupying Wall Street…
I did it, didn’t I? I went and told you what King would be doing were he alive today because I think it is what you should be doing if you were alive today.
Many of you, of coarse, are not alive. The life has been sucked from you by the television and the Internet and a system that certainly does not want you to dream the way Martin Luther King, Jr did. For the rest of you who are in fact alive, know we should not mistake non-violence with deference or passivity. What King said, in his watershed speech Beyond Vietnam, A Time To Break The Silence, bears revisiting:
“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”
The night before he was killed, he had this to say:
“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 so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!”
We don’t know if the glimpse he claimed to get from the mountaintop of the promised land looked anything like the world we have today. Yes we have an African American President, but we also have 400 people in this country whose net worth is equal to the entire African- American population, and those 400 people are not shamed- they need not hide, but rather they grace the cover of magazines are held up as success stories and not as beneficiaries of a crime, if not criminals themselves. We also have a security and surveillance state that see you when you sleep and knows when you’re awake because decades of being the greatest purveyor of violence in the world has generated so much fear of the potential blow back we have coming to us that we are prepared to give away liberty in the pursuit of a perception of security.
If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, what would he do about this world?
We have no way of knowing for sure.
You, however, are alive. What will you do?