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The Time Is Always Right to Do What Is Right

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day, a day where, ostensibly, we commemorate the tragically brief life of this great American, and celebrate the profound social and political changes to our nation the non-violent movement he led wrought. As the story goes, King’s movement brought America out of the benighted era of Jim Crow and legalized segregation, and into an enlightened, “post-racial America,” where people are judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The reality is, however, that while politicians on both sides of the aisle have supported King’s legacy rhetorically, using in his emancipatory language, too often MLK Day serves to insulate the status quo from confronting both the complexities of our history and our continued failures to this day. Explicit, codified racism may no longer be legal, but the shadows of injustice these systems cast stretch into the present. Since Dr. King’s iconic “I have a Dream” speech nearly 60 years ago, the racial wealth gap remains unchanged, de facto segregation in housing has increased, and the “justice system” continues to brutalize black and brown bodies. Kings words that, “we have come a long way, but we have a long way yet to go,” are tragically as true as ever over a half century later.

King understood the nature of the system we are fighting recognizing that seeking justice requires not just political activity, but economic leverage as well. The non-violent campaigns of the civil rights movement not only exerted political pressure through moral clarity, but targeted businesses through economic action. Indeed, we must always remember, that MLK Jr. was assassinated as he was organizing the working poor across racial lines, building a larger class solidarity. As King Said, “capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That's the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”

Looking at the social and political landscape today, Dr. King, were he alive, would likely be disappointed, but not surprised. As he observed in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the great stumbling block on the road to freedom is the so-called “white moderate,” a group that continues through today, to stymie our progress while professing sympathy for our agenda. The tepid agreement of Democratic leadership of the demands of the people, remains as ineffectual and unconvincing as it was in Dr. King's day. This superficial support for civil and human rights has allowed hatred and bigotry to fester for years in the corners of American life, until it has more recently exploded into public life as seen through the rise of hate groups and bigoted policies for all to see.

The task ahead of us now, is to be inspired by the unflagging faith and optimism of MLK Jr., and to continue the non-violent struggle for justice. The struggle is hard, and often dispiriting when we backslide, but Martin Luther King enjoins us to “accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” We must unite the people and awaken them to their power politically and economically, until one day America lives up to its promise, and is worthy of leaders like King! So, join us each Tuesday in united solidarity as we channel the spirit of King and all those who fight for a humane government that represents all of us!

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