Monday, January 17, 2011

Cheyenne marks the 25th anniversary of King holiday

Today we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Many speeches will be delivered, many of the man's quotes will be requoted. The holiday this year comes on the heels of the violence in Tucson. Violence, of course, is "as American as apple pie," said sixties Black Power activist H. Rap Brown. His original quote mentioned cherry pie. Apparently, that didn't seem American enough. But you get the picture. The U.S. has a history of violence that can't be denied, no matter how many whitewashed texts are written by ultra-conservative revisionists (Lynne Cheney, Glenn Beck, Texas, etc.).

But Americans haven't yet cornered the market on violence. Protesters in Tunisia were gunned down this week. Coalition soldiers continue to be blown up with IEDs planted by Afghanis angry that their relatives were blown up in a U.S. drone attack. Knifings and shootings and beatings and torture are a fact of life worldwide.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a proponent of nonviolence. He died by the gun, but he didn't promote the gun. Just the opposite. Some black activists did take up guns, although their numbers were wildly exaggerated at the time. But not MLK.

Dr. King gave thousands of speeches that promoted peace and nonviolence. Her actively campaigned against the war against black people in the South. He also opposed the Vietnam War and the Cold War. As he said often, notably in "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community:"
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Chaos or community? Have to wonder if those are the only choices we have. We're not exactly at the chaos point, but closing in on it. Community was much in evidence in Tucson last week, as we all came together for a brief time to honor the dead.

Author and Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley makes a great point in AP story about Dr. King. If we don't create a nation that's serious about nonviolence, Dr. King's legacy may fade away. In 50 years, all that we may be left with is a day off to go buy more trinkets at Wal-Mart.
"The holiday brought the freedom struggle into the main narrative," Brinkley said. "The day is meant to be a moment of reflection against racism, poverty and war. It's not just an African-American holiday. The idea of that day is to try to understand the experience of people who had to overcome racism but in the end are part and parcel of the American quilt."
Two years ago this week, I walked in Tucson's King march. I walked with my son Kevin from the University of Arizona campus to a city park. Nice January Arizona day. The marchers were white and black and Hispanic and Asian, a representative mix of Tucson's population. Many, such as my son, were younger than King was when he was gunned down in 1968. They are aware of his struggle but might not know the full weight of his commitment to nonviolence.

Two years later, some of these same people will march again. They also were out last week at vigils and memorials and funerals for Arizona's dead. Yesterday, hundreds of Tucsonans staged a march from McCormick Park to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords office. Today, many will be volunteering during a "Day of Service" for the King holiday.

Returning from my 2009 trip to Tucson, I watched most of Pres. Obama's inauguration from the Phoenix airport. I thought to myself: "A new America begins today." I jumped the gun a bit was a bit premature with my forecast. Change has begun, but so has a violent reaction to it. We can make progress as long as we don't succumb to fear and hate. We'd do well to keep Dr. King's words of nonviolence in our minds and in our hearts.

Today's Cheyenne march for Dr. King begins at noon at the Depot Plaza downtown. It concludes at the Capitol Building. Following the event, Love & Charity Inc. will serve chicken noodle soup at Allen Chapel, 917 W. 21st. Weather forecast: This morning's weird torrential rains have given way to sunshine. Wind still blowing, but what else is new?

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