From Consortium News
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the preeminent leader of the black liberation movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Millions of people engaged in the struggle against America's shameful apartheid system but King was the most influential. His actions are remembered, his words are quoted by activists, politicians, and pundits. His birthday is a national holiday. Only the worst and most retrograde racists dare to speak ill of King.
But the lionizing is mostly a sham. In fact there are very few people who remember the importance of what King said, what he did or why and how they should replicate his work. His legacy has been subverted and is now understood only by the most conscious students of history.
Nothing illustrated this state of affairs more clearly than the use of King's words in a Ram truck commercial broadcast during the 2018 Super Bowl football championship. Viewers were told that Ram trucks are "built to serve."
The voice-over is provided by King himself speaking exactly 50 years earlier, on February 4, 1968. The Drum Major Instinct sermon was a call to reject the ego driven desire for attention in favor of working for more altruistic pursuits. "If you want to say that I was a drum major say that I was a drum major for justice."
The commercial's creators deliberately ignored the portion of the sermon in which King derided the influence of advertising. He even mentioned vehicle advertising specifically. He warned that "gentleman of massive verbal persuasion" can influence people to act against their own interests. "In order to make your neighbors envious you must drive this type of car."
A Nation Going Backwards
Corporate interests are not alone in pretending to honor King while actually attacking him. King's legacy is severely diminished because it has been used by cynical individuals for corrupt purposes. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of his assassination we see a nation that has moved backwards on nearly every front. Legalized discrimination was eliminated but powerful forces undermined progress, and America in 2018 is devoid of the change that King fought to make real.
Much of the blame lies at the feet of the Democratic Party, who have an undeserved reputation for enacting progressive policies. In reality, Democrats actively targeted black people for joblessness, poverty, imprisonment and disenfranchisement. Democrats became the party of corporate interests and aligned themselves with every neoliberal initiative. They forsook the union movement, working hand in hand with finance capitalists to take living wage jobs out of the country. Bill Clinton oversaw the end of public assistance as a right, destroying what Franklin Roosevelt enacted 60 years earlier. He built on the work of Ronald Reagan and massively increased the prison population.
Barack Obama offered a "grand bargain" of austerity to Republicans and continued the George W. Bush policy of tax cuts for the wealthiest. The banks which created the 2008 financial collapse were rewarded with huge bailouts of public funds. Black people ended up losing the small bit of wealth they held before the crash and now lead only in the negative measurements of quality of life.
Democrats destroy public education through charter schools and refuse to raise the minimum wage even when they control Congress and have the power to act. They were never the party of peace and they are now most outspoken in encouraging an anti-Russian resumption of the Cold War and supporting imperialist interventions.
After the legislative victories of the 1960s black Americans were ignored, subjugated or co-opted. It is true that there are thousands of black elected officials, when in King's day there were hardly any. But this political class is a traitorous one and works for its own benefit, its patrons in corporate America and the civil rights organizations that are subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. The black political class went along with every sordid deal that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pursued. Their positions are secure but the rest of black America is anything but.
Prison Population Explodes
A glaring example is the enormous increase in incarceration rates. When Martin Luther King was alive there were only 300,000 incarcerated Americans. There are now more than 2 million. The exponential increase is not coincidental. Mass incarceration was a direct reaction to the freedom movement. Segregation put black people under physical control and the system devised new ways to secure the same result when it ended.
Black men became the face of drug dealing, or deadbeat fatherhood or anything else that the press and politicians told white Americans to fear and hate. The ripple effect is terrible and damages family life, the ability to earn a living and even to vote. In 48 states felons either lose the franchise permanently or are prevented from voting until all supervision is lifted. In Florida alone 1.5 million people cannot vote because of past convictions. A recent court case declared this rule unconstitutional and if a November 2018 ballot measure passes they may have their voting rights restored. That will be a happy result but there are 5 million more Americans, disproportionately black, who elsewhere lose the ability to vote due to criminal convictions.