A Few Words from Martin Luther King and Jamaal Bowman (Redux)

[Apologies for sending this again, but the video of King’s interview didn’t show up in the email that goes out to some of this blog’s vast public]

From an interview in May, 1967:

[The interview]

From Jamaal Bowman, who will now represent New York’s 16th District in Congress:

We can’t talk about the attacks against “Socialism” without talking about white backlash to demands for investment in communities of color.

Government programs, or what they call “Socialism,” is apparently fine for white people but no one else.

Was the GI Bill socialism?
Was the Works Progress Administration socialism?
Was the Homestead Act socialism?

These programs built the middle class and American wealth. But we’re letting ourselves get played by the GOP’s divide-and-conquer strategy if we don’t tell it like it is.

If we let Republicans and their billionaire friends on Fox News and corporate America divide us up, working people of all backgrounds can’t come together to fund our schools, demand millions of green jobs, and investment in ALL of our communities.

Let’s complete the work of our ancestors in this struggle.

For every step our nation takes forward on racial and economic justice, the forces of backlash will try to divide-and-conquer us all.

But we have to stay focused because I truly believe that we will win.

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Relevant Comments from the Last Century

Ken Makin of the Christian Science Monitor says that, at times like this, it’s too easy to quote the final words of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, when King looked forward to the day “all of God’s children … will be able to join hands and sing … Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!” Mr. Makin suggests we remember some of Dr. King’s other, more specific words.

From his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?:

Ever since the birth of our nation, white America has had a schizophrenic personality on the question of race. She has been torn between selves – a self in which she proudly professed the great principles of democracy and a self in which she sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy. This tragic duality has produced a strange indecisiveness and ambivalence toward the Negro, causing America to take a step backward simultaneously with every step forward on the question of racial justice, to be at once attracted to the Negro and repelled by him, to love and to hate him. There has never been a solid, unified, and determined thrust to make justice a reality for Afro-Americans.

From his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee, the day before he was shot:

Let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor [the mayor being one of our “sick white brothers”]. They didn’t get around to that.

And from the “I Have a Dream” speech five years earlier:

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

Outside Agitation

From Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter (partly because I quoted the mayor of St. Paul on this subject two days ago):

Over the weekend, … as some protests descended into violence and looting, several local and national officials blamed the uprising on “outside agitators.” This explanation is a gross oversimplification with an ugly racial history. It has been used repeatedly to marginalize real grievances and to ignore systemic racism.

While there are certainly people attempting to exploit the unrest, there is a long history of government officials using the trope of “outside agitators” to delegitimize protests of racial injustice.

“I want to be very, very clear: The people that are doing this are not Minneapolis residents,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) … said Saturday. “They are coming in largely from outside of the city, from outside of the region, to prey on everything we have built over the last several decades.”

“Every single person we arrested last night, I’m told, was from out of state,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III (D) said, “What we are seeing right now is a group of people who are not from here.”

Their comments were echoed by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D), who said, “about 20 percent are Minnesotans, and 80 percent are outside.”

Arrest records tell a very different story. Investigative reporter Brandon Stahl reviewed 69 arrest records from Minneapolis-based police “for rioting, unlawful assembly and burglary-related crimes from Friday to Saturday.” Of those, 56 were from Minnesota, and five were “unknown.” There were just eight arrests of people from other states. In St. Paul, 12 of the 18 arrests were Minnesota residents. A city spokesman acknowledged his error and said the mayor “went with the information he had at the time.”

In 1965, for example, notoriously racist Alabama sheriff Jim Clark, whose posse tear-gassed and clubbed civil rights protesters in Selma, blamed the situation on “outsiders” like Martin Luther King Jr. He said that the “local people” would “settle down” once King and other outsiders left.

In 1963, King broke down the perniciousness of the “outside agitator” trope in a letter he wrote while jailed in Birmingham after participating in a non-violent protest…. King was responding to eight white members of the clergy who said segregation should be fought only in courts and objected to demonstrations “directed and led by outsiders”.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in”… I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

King believed in non-violence, but also warned against dismissing the underlying cause of riots. “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots,” King said in a 1967 speech, “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

Unquote.

Looting, vandalism and violence have very few supporters, but, as someone pointed out, most of the looting we’ve seen lately has involved corporations taking millions of dollars in stimulus payments meant for workers and small businesses.