Our education system is getting cut to the bones, unemployment is up while aid to the poor is dwindling and nearly all tax breaks go to the richest five percent of Americans. At the same time, we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year on weapons and are on the brink of spending hundreds of billions more to invade a country without a clear reason why.
All across the country and the world, activists are preparing to voice their opposition to a war in Iraq in what could be the largest organized protest in world history. As both foreign allies and leading GOP Congress members express their disapproval of the Bush administration’s actions, the time is perfect for a massive rally to shatter the illusion of support for war.
This weekend’s protests are dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., in recognition of not only his accomplishments against segregation and dedication toward non-violence, but also his articulate criticism of America’s direction. When King’s birthday is celebrated, it’s common to focus on his life prior to the implementation of his civil rights work and to ignore what he was trying to accomplish in his last years of life.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” This sort of quote tends to be pushed to the background when King’s birthday is celebrated, but it helps illustrate his broader goals. King felt that Congress was openly hostile to the poor, robbing them of what was rightfully theirs and using it in ways that didn’t benefit them.
Although King’s opposition to the Vietnam War was assumed, he went far beyond what was expected with the delivery of the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on April 4, 1967, precisely one year to the day before he was assassinated. He analyzed not only why we were in Vietnam but also why the U.S. regularly attacks the rest of the world. Though this speech isn’t recognized during the sanitized celebrations of today, it wasn’t ignored at the time.
Time called the speech “demagogic slander.” The Washington Post claimed, “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.” Network television and publications that were King’s allies as he fought segregation quickly turned on him when he began to challenge the direction America was taking. Today, their continuing hostility towards King’s ideals is manifested through their silence and distortions.
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” People like Bush once branded King a threat for statements like these but now pay his legacy lip service as they work toward opposite goals.
The response to reports from U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix that the inspectors had yet to find evidence of an illegal weapons program is telling. Richard Perle, a top defense advisor, told BBC this week that if inspectors didn’t find any of the alleged weapons, “there [would] be military action.” Donald Rumsfeld has said the lack of evidence against Iraq is evidence against Iraq and then asked NATO to support military action. According to this logic, we attack whether or not weapons are found.
The Oct. 27 demonstrations drew nearly 100,000 demonstrators in Washington, D.C. alone, a turnout that police said was the largest political demonstration in the capitol since the Vietnam War. About 220 organizing centers in 45 states are coordinating transportation to the protests in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. this weekend, 70 more organizing centers than the last event.
This weekend one should take time to contemplate the legacy of King, both in his quest toward racial equality and toward “a radical revolution of values” in the U.S. in which taxes are used to benefit people. The time has come to “move beyond the prophesying of a smooth patriotism to the high grounds of firm dissent.”
Drew Atkins is a Daily Nexus reporter.