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Wednesday May 25, 2022

Celebrating radicalism

January 19, 2022

As we mourn Martin Luther King Jr and celebrate his life, we must remember that he was violently assassinated. His ideas were seen as radical and dangerous. He critiqued liberals and moderates and did not have the approval of most Americans. So what if we instead celebrate King as a leader who gave his life to a movement focused on Black people, on poor people, on labor activism and anti-war sentiments. What if we celebrate King as he was: a radical?

King was a critic of the Vietnam War and a supporter of workers’ rights. He was a formerly incarcerated gun-owner, stalked by the FBI, accused of communist leanings though he loudly critiqued the Communist Party, and was staunchly opposed to wealth inequality and poverty. If he lived today, he would not be celebrated for these beliefs, at least not in the mainstream. By celebrating a sanitized image of King, filled with out-of-context quotes and vague ideas about peace, we disrespect his legacy and all that he worked for. Yes, King believed in nonviolent resistance. But like all people, his ideologies and beliefs changed over time. His ideas about what constituted resistance were complex, disruptive, and often ended in violence by the opposition.

King’s method of nonviolent resistance was a political tactic, designed to showcase the violence of white opposition throughout America’s South. Nonviolent did not mean nondisruptive – from the march to Montgomery on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to King’s support of the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, King’s ideology relied on the disruption of capitalism, of transportation and of everyday life. As conservatives co-opt King’s lineage and ask ‘What would King think?’ after every protest of police violence, they further the myth that what King did was easy, was accepted, and did not disrupt or inconvenience the lives of white people. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not only did King fight for civil rights, but he also argued for a Universal Basic Income and the creation of a ‘nonviolent army of the poor’ through his poor people’s campaign, continued by his wife after his assassination. The platform of King’s Poor People’s Campaign involved a demand for a $30bn dollar investment in a ‘real war on poverty’ – a direct critique of democratic president Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. He also wanted a guaranteed annual wage for all Americans and the building of quality low-cost housing across the United States. To contend with King’s legacy and beliefs, we have to acknowledge that many of them centered around poverty.

Ironically, some of the best evidence of King’s radical ideas comes from the FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), led by J. Edgar Hoover, which followed King for years and suspected him of communism.

Excerpted: ‘Martin Luther King’s Radicalism Would Not Be Celebrated Today’

Courtesy: Commondreams.org

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