What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?--Langston Hughes, "Harlem"
Martin Luther King Jr. could tell you what happens to dreams deferred. They explode.
As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, more than 50 years after King was assassinated, his dream of a world without racism, militarism and materialism remains distant.
Indeed, the reality we must contend with is far different from King's dream for the future: America has become a ticking time bomb of racial unrest and injustice, police militarization, surveillance, government corruption and ineptitude, the blowblack from a battlefield mindset and endless wars abroad, and a growing economic inequality between the haves and have nots.
King's own legacy has suffered in the process.
The image of the hard-talking, charismatic leader, voice of authority, and militant, nonviolent activist minister/peace warrior who staged sit-ins, boycotts and marches and lived through police attack dogs, water cannons and jail cells has been so watered down that younger generations recognize his face but know very little about his message.
Rubbing salt in the wound, while those claiming to honor King's legacy pay lip service to his life and the causes for which he died, they have done little to combat the evils about which King spoke and opposed so passionately: injustice, war, racism and economic inequality.
For instance, President Obama speaks frequently of King, but what has he done to bring about peace or combat the racial injustices that continue to be meted out to young black Americans by the police state?
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump plans to "honor" Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy by speaking at a convocation at Liberty University, but what has he done to combat economic injustice?
Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton will pay tribute to King's legacy by taking part in Columbia, South Carolina's King Day at the Dome event, but has she done anything to dispel her track record's impression that "machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are still considered more important than people"?
Unlike the politicians of our present day, King was a clear moral voice that cut through the fog of distortion. He spoke like a prophet and commanded that you listen. King dared to speak truth to the establishment and called for an end to oppression and racism. He raised his voice against the Vietnam War and challenged the military-industrial complex. And King didn't just threaten boycotts and sit-ins for the sake of photo ops and media headlines. Rather, he carefully planned and staged them to great effect.
The following key principles formed the backbone of Rev. King's life and work. King spoke of them incessantly, in every sermon he preached, every speech he delivered and every article he wrote. They are the lessons we failed to learn and, in failing to do so, we have set ourselves up for a future in which a militarized surveillance state is poised to eradicate freedom.
Practice militant non-violence, resist militarism and put an end to war.
"I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today--my own government."--Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York's Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)
On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, King used the power of his pulpit to condemn the U.S. for "using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted." King called on the U.S. to end all bombing in Vietnam, declare a unilateral cease-fire, curtail its military build-up, and set a date for troop withdrawals. In that same sermon, King warned that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Fifty-some years later, America's military empire has been expanded at great cost to the nation, with the White House leading the charge. Indeed, in his recent State of the Union address, President Obama bragged that the U.S. spends more on its military than the next eight nations combined. Mind you, the money spent on wars abroad, weapons and military personnel is money that is not being spent on education, poverty and disease.