If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive and living in Baltimore he would be amazed and horrified. He’d be amazed that the city has a black woman mayor, and that women of color hold most of the major positions in city government. He’d be pleased with the leading candidate for president is a person of color, but i think, he would reject the media’s preoccupation with Carlyle’s “great man” theory of change, as it pertains to Sheila Dixon, Barack Obama or himself for that matter. He would put more credence on the legacy of social and economic conditions that continue to impede the quality of life for society’s more impoverished people.
King would look around at the marginalization and displacement of poor people of color and would be horrified. he’d be horrified at the amount of violence, the murder rate, the pervasiveness of drugs, the poverty of public schools; the paucity of black males graduating high school, and the overabundance in prison, the high unemployment rate, and the broken economics of a community whose visual facade is of boarded up row homes, block after block.
The King who spoke about economic justice (the three evils of racism, materialism and militarism) in the year before he died, would demand of our presidential candidates– regardless of race- that they speak to these ills, and speak substantively and programmatically about them. he’d demand no less. He would shame the country into forcing an end to the war in Iraq, and would demand of the federal, state and local governments, a marshall plan effort to rebuild urban infrastructure around the country.
For King, the problem, and the solutions rested in mobilizing the country, to force leaders to do things they otherwise would not have the courage to do. Back in the 1950s and early 60,s the mobilizing cry was desegregation. In 1967-8 the issue expanded to include poverty/ class and the war.
King’s speech april 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in NYC was about the Vietnam and the crisis of militarism. For King, racism and classism were intricately connected, and poverty was not just a race issue but an issue that plagues people of all races and ethnicities. Likewise, the crisis of militarism replaced social spending with military spending and put the poor of all races on the war’s front lines. Not much has changed.
In King’s honor, Baltimore is justified in having a 3 day multi media symposium on the effects of the riot that followed King’s death. Fine, as far as it goes. But King would have been pleased only if this included next-steps for a poor people’s campaign in Baltimore, and elsewhere, to force leaders to heed the people’s growing demands for social change.