Wednesday, January 12, 2005

"It is easier to build a momument than a movement."

I will undoubtedly, get much of this story wrong, but, bear with me. And if it is preachy, well, sorry.

Last night I saw the last 15 minutes or so of a PBS American Experience on the life of Dr. King. It was pretty amazing. What really struck me was that they had all this home video of him just hanging out, joking around, being depressed- ie, being a normal person. You saw him getting poked fun at, etc. He was not a God. He was an extraordinary man, put in an extraordinary situation.

The crazy part was on the last few months of his life. At the time, he was being ruthlessly attacked for coming out strong against Vietnam, and his poor people's campaign was not going well. He had been accused of starting, and then running from violence when a march got out of control... He was tired, beaten down, and depressed. And so, he was in Memphis on April 3, 1968, to stand in solidarity with dehumanized and striking African-American trash collectors. The night of the 3rd he was supposed to give a speech, but given how worn down he was, the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition was going to send Ralph Abernathy to give the speech instead, so that Dr. King could rest. But when the SCLC leaders saw that there was a huge crowd gathered, ostensibly to hear Dr. King, they told him he had to go and at least say a few words. So he did.

The speech that he gave, as has become legend, mimicked Moses' call to the Israelites that he may not get to the promised land with them. And as he went on in the speech, and became more and more animated, the SCLC people describe him as getting more and more excited, and almost rejuvenated. Whether he had made peace with the fact that he could never be a total savior, or whether he simply just somehow knew what was to come, they describe him as happier than he had been in months.

The next day, he was horsing around in his hotel room, throwing pillows at people, as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Then, of course, he went out on his balcony to check the weather, and, the rest is... awful.

The SCLC people discussing the assassination had such prescience. They said they knew that although the Poor People's Campaign would go on, they were in trouble. Not necessarily because there were not people who were still committed to the civil rights movement, but because, as one woman so eloquently put it, "It is a lot easier to build a monument than a movement." And today, when every state in the U.S. celebrates Dr. Kings birthday, while at the same time cutting programs like Pell Grants, or healthcare for the poor, that statement really does ring true.

That whole story is a long way of saying that this Monday is Dr. King’s birthday. And I plead with you, for this one day of the year, celebrate Dr. King with honor. Take part in the thousands of service opportunities that abound everywhere. Less honor the man, and more honor the movement, by doing something to help your City.

If you live in G-Town, and want to work outside, email me, and I will hook you up with a morning's work cleaning a little slice of the park. Everywhere else, opportunities abound. Either way, skip the one day sale at Strawbridges, set the alarm, and join the 50,000 people who will be doing the same.


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