From Our Future
This Monday, the nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If he hadn't been murdered, he would be 89 years old. How would Dr. King view today's activists? Would he join them to walk picket lines for a higher minimum wage, or take a knee as the national anthem is played?
The words to his "I Have a Dream" speech will be repeated from podiums and in classrooms across the country. But many of the people repeating these words have never heard other King quotes, like this one:
"I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values."
To those who condemn idealism, who preach the quiet cynicism of self-limiting "pragmatism" and insist it's "how the world works," Dr. King had an answer: He was, in his own words, "maladjusted."
In a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University, he said:
"There are certain things in our nation and in the world (about) which I am proud to be maladjusted... I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.
"But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence..."
Dr. King also said: "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy."
"We must ... realize," he continued, "that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power."A Radical Spirit
In other words, Dr. King was a radical.
A few years ago, invocations of Dr. King's radical spirit were hard to find. They're more common today, but even the best-intentioned of these pieces tend to place his radicalism in the past tense. That's a mistake. Dr. King is gone, but his ideals live on.
We can never be sure how Dr. King might view current events, but he can still guide us through his rich record of words and deeds.
Here are six ways that the revolutionary spirit of Dr. King lives on.Black Lives Matter and the NFL Protests
"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored ... there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth."
-- Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963
Dr. King's spirit lives on in the NFL protests and in Black Lives Matter.
Some politicians who invoke Dr. King this holiday will try to reduce his memory to an emoji they can paste onto their platitudes. But Dr. King was a troublemaker, in the best sense of the word. He knew what it meant to create tension, and discomfort, and disharmony.