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Thoughts on April 4

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By Dave Lindorff

For the first 18 years of my life, my birthdays were purely celebratory occasions, but since 1968, the day has always come tinged with a shadow. April 4 is the day Martin Luther King was shot.

I actually learned about King’s death sitting, appropriately, in a jail cell.

I was a freshman at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and had been given an assignment in my philosophy class to write a paper on Henry Thoreau’s influence on Mahatma Gandhi, and of course through him on Martin Luther King. Being 18 at the time, and it being spring, I decided I should write the paper not at school, but at Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

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Accordingly, I left school, cut my classes, and hitchhiked up to Concord, Mass. I arrived there in the late afternoon and found my way to Walden Pond, which is a small municipal park. Poking around the edges of the lake, I located the site of Thoreau’s cabin, which was really, at that point, just a slight depression in the ground, the cabin long since having rotted away. I sat down there, where the philosophical author of the concept of civil disobedience had lived briefly, and began to write myself.

As it got dark, I laid out my sleeping bag, slid in to protect myself from the chill, and kept working, writing in pencil by flashlight.

It began to rain.

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It was a drizzle at first, but eventually it came down a bit harder, and I began to rue my failure to bring along a tarp of some kind. I was getting soaked. Still, I figured Thoreau had suffered in his time, refusing to pay a war tax to support the government’s war of aggression against Mexico and ending up in the pokey, so what was a little cold and wet?

Then a policeman came up, attracted by my light.

“What are you doing here?” he asked me, his voice more puzzled than gruff. Clearly he was amazed at how wet and miserable I looked.

“I’m working on a paper on Thoreau’s influence on Gandhi and Martin Luther King,” I said, realizing how ridiculous that must sound.

“Yeah, well King’s dead,” he told me. “He was just shot in Memphis.”

I was stunned. It took all my resilience away and I started to shiver.

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“Look,” the officer said kindly. “It’s cold, and it’s going to be raining all night. You can’t stay here in the park after dark. Technically, you’re trespassing, so if you want, I can take you in and you can sleep in the jail. But I’ll have to lock you up.”

It sounded like a good deal to me. A warm bed, and maybe a cup of coffee.

So he drove me in to the Concord jail. I don’t know whether he violated protocol, but I was not cuffed for the ride in the back of his patrol car.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)
 

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