"On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points." --Virginia Woolf
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY: The Rev would not be proud
Today, as I scanned some of the top stories from my native soil, I kept seeing the face of Rev Martin Luther King pop up along with various stories. 'What's goin on here?' I thought. Then it dawned on me--yesterday was MLK Day, and I was just sittin out here in limey land sipping tea, watching celebrity Big Brother.
The 20th anniversary of its official national observance, this holiday commands attention on so many levels, and must be recognized now more than ever. With Rosa Parks' recent death, King's widow in the hospital from a stroke, another Vietnam on our hands and the mounting fear of nuclear devastation, the cause of the great Reverend needs a little revisit. And by "little revisit" I mean a major acknowledgement. Monumental I'd say.
This is the only major U.S. holiday which has yet to be diluted and degraded by the shameful, culture-eradicating machine that is commercialization. No "Martin Luther King White Sale Now On at Macy's!" or "MLK Low Low Prices at Circuit City!" to be had.
It was in 1994 that President Clinton signed, with the collaborative efforts of Coretta Scott King, the King Holiday and Service Act, which sought to promote the day as one of "community service, interracial cooperation, and youth anti-violence efforts." ...sorry President Bush, but I guess (from that last line) you won't be celebrating this year, or for the rest of your horrific tenure.
It's the nonviolence tenets of King's teachings which really strike a prescient chord. King historian Taylor Branch wrote an amazing Op-Ed piece in the NYT yesterday which really eloquated (I realize that eloquate is not a word, but if I were eloquent enough, I could think of a bettter one) this well:
"Above all, no one speaks for nonviolence. Indeed, the most powerful discipline from the freedom movement was the first to be ridiculed across the political spectrum. 'A hundred political commentators have interred nonviolence into a premature grave,' Dr. King complained after Selma. The concept seemed alien and unmanly. It came to embarrass many civil rights veterans themselves, even though nonviolence lies at the heart of democracy."
Repeat after me: Nonviolence lies at the heart of democracy. Nonviolence lies at the heart of democracy. Nonviolence...
King is the ultimate patriot, one of the only true martyrs in my book, and proof that the message of America's founding fathers will not be lost in contemporary American history books.
Quoting Branch further, "His oratory fused the political promise of equal votes with the spiritual doctrine of equal souls. He planted one foot in American heritage, the other in scripture, and both in nonviolence."
And finally, Branch concludes:
"We must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past...Gunfire took Dr. King's life, but we determine his legacy. This holiday, let that inspiration remain our patriotic challenge."
This holiday, I went to Topshop and ate at Starbucks. The Rev would not be proud.
I am uncommonly mobile; I have circumnavigated the globe eight times, walking amazing distances. Through the South Island of New Zealand to the Southern Alps. From Chile to the Andes in Argentina. Across the Serengeti in Africa. I made 300 ascents of mountains 10,000 ft. tall or more, including the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Kilimanjaro. I traveled alone, aided only by my porters, sketching volcanos and collecting wildflowers along the way.