Newsletter: What It Means To #ReclaimMLK

| Newsletter

This week, in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, people around the country are organizing actions to #ReclaimMLK as the true person he was; one that recognized the roots of the crises being experienced and who made connections between many issues. Dr. King was a critic of capitalism, racism and imperialism. He said:

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

Dr. King called for a “revolution of values,” meaning a shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. A new generation of young activists is embracing the radical Dr. King and rejecting the watered-down version presented in major media. A strong example is this group of grade school students who organized a powerful celebration of Dr. King’s birthday on Jan. 15 with a march from their school to the juvenile detention center.

While those “giant triplets” continue to ravage our communities, the “revolution of values” is back on track with focused work by activists in the US, sometimes in collaboration with activists around the world, to expose and end systemic racism, to end imperialism and to create a new solidarity economy.

Ending Racist Policing

The #BlackLivesMatter movement continues bold actions to both gain attention for systemic racism and to push for necessary reforms that reign in violence and put communities back in control. Events in New York City have been particularly volatile as police first went on a slowdown, arresting “only those who needed it,” and have now increased arrests for questionable and minimal violations of law.

1richmondThe police union in New York has refused to recognize that it has a problem. In other areas of the country where police chiefs have respected the rights of protestors and have even joined them, police unions and residents have complained. Following numerous peaceful protests in Grand Central Station, transit police banned die-ins, but demonstrators defied the ban.

Coast to coast, communities are organizing for change. In Los Angeles, Black Lives Matter activists camped outside the police department for days asking for a meeting with the police chief over the killing of Ezell Ford.  Two leaders were arrested for entering the station to deliver a letter, but they finally met with the chief.

In Cleveland where young Tamir Rice was killed, more than 40 churches are working together to develop a plan for police reform. And President Obama has convened a task force on “21st Century Policing.” DCFerguson organizer Kymone Freeman attended the task force’s first town hall and felt he was in an alternative universe where police were applauded for reduced crime without much focus on police violence. Will this effort be used to deter real reform? Watch his strong testimony before the task force here.

1ferrg2guanConnecting Militarism at Home and Abroad

Perhaps the greatest speech of Dr. King was the speech he gave a year before his death, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break the Silence” which described the United States as “the greatest purveyor of violence” in the world and urged an end to the Vietnam War. Sadly, the United State continues to be a purveyor of violence, with increasing militarism around the world.

In the new Congress this year, we can expect more war. After meeting recently with the President, leadership stated that they may move to pass a broad authorization of war against ISIS and others. And with more war, comes more military spending and more cuts to public programs. As Allegra Kirkland points out, “This year, we’re on track to spend over $1 trillion on national security, after factoring in nuclear weapons funding, military pensions and ‘overseas contingency funds,’ in addition to the Pentagon’s $580 billion operating budget.”

Dr. King said it best: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Mother of Emanuel leads procession at US Department of Justice with representatives of Witness Against Torture and Hands Up Coalition DC. Source Witness Against Torture.

Mother of Emanuel leads procession at US Department of Justice with representatives of Witness Against Torture and Hands Up Coalition DC. Source Witness Against Torture.

We saw that spiritual doom at the weekly Justice Mondays outside the Department of Justice in Washington, DC organized by the HandsUpCoalitionDC. This past Monday, the coalition connected with Witness Against Torture and also remembered Muslims who are targets because of the never-ending war on terror. After a protest at the DOJ, three coffins were carried to the front doors of the DC Police Station and activists held a rally inside and outside the police station for 28 minutes to mark the death of people of color every 28 hours.

Witness Against Torture concluded a week of actions around the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. They held a “Torturer’sTour” over the weekend where they visited the homes of Dick Cheney and John Brennan and the CIA. And earlier on Monday, WAT activists were arrested for actions inside the Senate Gallery and the Capitol visitor’s center where they held a banner saying “Ferguson to Guantanamo: White Silence = State Violence.”

Lifting our Communities up With a New Economy

When Dr. King was killed he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign which would highlight poverty and the unfair economy.  He was killed in Memphis working with sanitation workers who were on strike. The same issues of poverty, low wages and an unfair economy plague the United States today.

It is no secret that in addition to the general gaping wealth divide in the US, there is a huge wealth disparity between black and white communities. To make things worse, a new report demonstrates that our state tax systems are fundamentally unfair with the poor paying up to seven times more taxes as a percent of income than the wealthy in the worse states, known as the ‘Terrible Ten.’

Sharing EconomyThe good news is that there is greater awareness that the economy is fundamental when it comes down to whose interests are being represented and shifting political power. Communities are creating new economic institutions that are more cooperative and build wealth instead of allowing it to go to a few at the top.

In New York, faith leaders made it clear on inauguration day that the people need jobs with living wages, fair taxation, investment in public education and a stronger social safety net. In Vermont, advocates pushed the state legislature hard for a public bank and wound up with a commitment from the government to invest in local projects.

People in cities across the country, like Reading, PA, are working at the municipal level to put components of the solidarity economy in place such as cooperatives, loans for local small businesses, urban gardening, public banks, re-municipalization of public services, etc. CommonomicsUSA is a new organization that will work with communities to put components of the solidarity economy into place.

1kickThe idea of the new solidarity economy is growing deep roots in the US. Economics students are rejecting the outdated and false paradigm of neo-classical economics and insisting that they learn about economic systems that are more just and sustainable. And more people are rejecting the two corporate political parties and are building independent political power as well. Dr. King was a strong proponent of independent politics.

An Important Battle for Our Future

As we have written before, we are facing a critical challenge early this year that is a game changer for all of us who care about a livable future. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as “NAFTA on steroids,” is an agreement that goes beyond trade to impact everything we care about from our ability to protect our health and safety to our ability to build local economies, stem the tide of privatization, stop extreme energy extraction and protect workers and the environment.

1TPPExpress1We now have the general timetable for the TPP and the Fast Track legislation that Obama is seeking from Congress so that he can conclude negotiations and sign the agreement. We must act quickly. We expect that the President will praise the TPP in his State of the Union Speech on January 20. We’ll need you to flood Congress with calls on January 21 to show that you are not fooled. Go to to call Congress and tell others to do the same. Hearings on fast track and another round of negotiations are expected in late January and the bill will be introduced after that.

We can’t emphasize enough how important stopping Fast Track and the TPP are. They really are a game changer that will set our work back for decades if we lose and given the information coming out almost daily telling us how fragile our future is, we don’t have that much time. We urge you to get involved in stopping fast track. This affects everyone and everybody can do something!


  • DHFabian

    What is disturbing about the current “MLK discussion” is how well it is being reframed to apply only to (poor) black Americans. Dr. King specifically addressed the corporate agenda that creates and enforces poverty. He pointed out that the majority of US poor are white — a fact that seems to particularly annoy people, for their own reasons — as the reason we must all unite to push back against the “corporate state,” and for basic human rights. We’ve had white Americans try to reframe Dr. King as a middle class suburbanite with a milquetoast message, and black Americans who are outraged when white Americans point out that Dr. King’s poverty discussion wasn’t restricted to black poverty. I don’t know how relevant any of this is today, however, since even US liberals have embraced the corporate philosophy, believing that only those who are of current use to employers deserve the most basic human rights of food and shelter. I personally think we should use this opportunity, when poverty might be mentioned in media at all, to legitimately examine our poverty crisis in whole, and with it, try to determine what we think fundmental civil and human rights in the US should be. Maybe then, the proverbial “masses” could unite, rebuilding all that was damaged since the 1980s.