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Remembering Martin Luther King: ‘Dream’ shattered by US slide into anarchy

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Martin Luther King Jr. was an icon of America's civil rights movement. (File Photo)

On August 28, 1963, tens of thousands of Americans congregated at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC to listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech.

The celebrated American civil rights leader’s thunderous speech expressed the larger goals of the country’s civil rights movement, mainly in seeking an end to racial inequality and discrimination.

“We've come to our nation's capital to cash a check for the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” he declared in the famous speech, highlighting “the fierce urgency of now”.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” King hastened to add, in words indelibly etched in the annals of history. “I have a dream today”.

Today, 59 years later, the world’s so-called ‘oldest democracy’ continues to grapple with maladies of structural racism, social injustice and police brutality, which often manifest in violent incidents.

The legendary civil rights leader’s dream that people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character has remained unfulfilled, as African-Americans and other people of color in the US continue to be discriminated against, bullied, harassed, and killed.

In fact, the non-violent resistance movement exemplified by King acted as a stimulus for recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations across the US, ripples of which were felt around the world.

On Monday, in what has become an unbearably dull annual affair in the US, Americans commemorated the legacy of King, and the achievements of his civil rights movement.

While the occasion was used by right-wing elements in the US to paint a rosy picture of the country, to pretend as if everything is hunky-dory, many others sought to raise a clarion call – to remind the powers in Washington of King’s 1963 speech and the country’s accelerating slide into anarchy and despotism. 

King was a strong opponent of war, violence and foreign invasions. He fiercely opposed racial injustice and social disparities. He saw himself as a representative of the poor and dispossessed. He also deemed voting as a keystone of political action and civil rights in a democracy.

Today, almost six decades since his passing, the US foreign policy is fundamentally based on war, violence, foreign invasions and hegemonic ambitions. The phenomenon of social injustice and racial discrimination has assumed alarming proportions. The people of color are feeling increasingly vulnerable and insecure in the face of the rising tide of white supremacy and political fascism.

Today, white supremacy and structural racism has become ingrained in the American political and social system, trivializing the inalienable rights of Black people, while degrading and dehumanizing them.

There has been a worrying rise in attacks on both African Americans and Asian Americans in recent years, which some blame on the former US President Donald Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric.

It was white supremacy, fueled by former president Donald Trump’s vitriolic remarks, which impelled the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin claim the life of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, on May 25, 2020. The incident later became a powerful emblem of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.

While Floyd’s brutal killing caught the imagination of the country, he was not the first and certainly not the last one to perish to hate and violence unleashed by white supremacists.

Eric Garner’s moving words "I can't breathe" uttered on July 17, 2014, while being wrestled to the ground by a New York Police officer sparked widespread protests. The killer cop was never prosecuted.

Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014, and the culprit was cleared of any wrongdoing, laying bare deep-rooted racial disparities in the US judicial system.

The dance of death continued, as the tide of white supremacy became bigger and wider across the country, facilitated by the law enforcement agencies and patronized by the rich and powerful.

Despite Black Lives Matter movement maintaining its nonviolent nature, it has been opposed, dismissed and even attacked by right-wing forces in the US, most notably by Republican Party supporters, who otherwise claim King as one of their own and pay glowing tributes to him.

In a sign of how racism has come to be institutionalized in the country, there has been a campaign to keep racism out of school curriculum, to deny American children the right to know their history.

Recently, Texas lawmakers passed a bill seeking ban on critical race theory in schools, which stated that “a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs."

This is not what the great anti-racism icon said in his eloquent speeches that are widely shared and quoted today by American politicians across the political spectrum.

In another betrayal of the cause King passionately championed, voting rights have faced an unprecedented assault recently. The issue has become a contentious topic in the US Congress.

At a news conference in Washington on Monday after the annual Martin Luther King Day rally, participants blasted US senators and the Biden administration for their failure to enact voting reforms.

Meanwhile, on the occasion of the Martin Luther King Day, observed every year on the third Monday of January, many Americans took to social media to remind those in the echelons of power of myriad challenges facing the country 54 years after King’s death.

“Today, as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his legacy’s call is clear: deliver justice for the poor, protect those targeted by hate, defend the freedom to vote, and demand that our leaders fight current malice as the best bulwark against future harm,” said Stacey Abrams, a political leader, author and voting rights activist.

Tim Ragland, the first black mayor of Talladega, Alabama, quoted from one of the speeches of King: “As we continue the March toward freedom, we must be bold when battling the status quo; courageous when confronting racism and bigotry; and resilient in our efforts to remedy economic and social injustice.”

Journalist Benjamin Norton said King was an “anti-war socialist” who is said to "question the capitalistic economy," calling for a "radical redistribution of economic and political power," tying together anti-racism and anti-militarism.

Melina Abdullah, a university professor and Black Lives Matter activist, called for “reclaiming Martin Luther King”, hailing him as “the radical visionary who dared challenge capitalism as well as racism”.

It, however, remains to be seen whether the political elites in Washington would allow these campaigners of truth and justice to reclaim their legendary hero and their rightful space in a society that is free of inequality, malice, discrimination, racism, fascism, and exploitation.

As someone succinctly noted, until that happens, King’s soul will not rest in peace.

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