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The Arc of the Moral Universe, From Memphis to Wall Street

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Posted on Oct 18, 2011
White House / Chuck Kennedy

President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and Marian Robinson tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial before the dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C.

By Amy Goodman

The national memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. was dedicated last Sunday. President Barack Obama said of Dr. King, “If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there.” The dedication occurred amidst the increasingly popular and increasingly global Occupy Wall Street movement. What Obama left unsaid is that King, were he alive, would most likely be protesting Obama administration policies.

Not far from the dedication ceremony, Cornel West, preacher, professor, writer and activist, was being arrested on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. He said, before being hauled off to jail: “We want to bear witness today that we know the relation between corporate greed and what goes on too often in the Supreme Court decisions. … We will not allow this day of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s memorial to go without somebody going to jail, because Martin King would be here right with us, willing to throw down out of deep love.”

West was arrested with 18 others, declaring “solidarity with the Occupy movement all around the world, because we love poor people, we love working people, and we want Martin Luther King Jr. to smile from the grave that we haven’t forgot his movement.”

Over the same weekend as the dedication, the U.S. military/CIA’s drone campaign, under Commander in Chief Obama, launched what the independent, nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, called the 300th drone strike, the 248th since Obama took office. According to the BIJ, of the at least 2,318 people killed by drone strikes, between 386 and 775 were civilians, including 175 children. Imagine how Obama’s fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Dr. King, would respond to those grim statistics.

Back in 1963, King published a collection of sermons titled “Strength to Love.” His preface began, “In these turbulent days of uncertainty the evils of war and of economic and racial injustice threaten the very survival of the human race.” Three of the 15 sermons were written in Georgia jails, including “Shattered Dreams.” In that one, he wrote, “To cooperate passively with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressor.” King revisited the idea of shattered dreams four years later, eight months before his assassination, in his speech called “Where Do We Go From Here,” saying: “Our dreams will sometimes be shattered and our ethereal hopes blasted. … Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

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Earlier in that year, 1967, a year to the day before he was killed, King gave his oft-overlooked “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City. King preached, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”

With those words, with that speech, King set the tone for his final, fateful year. Despite death threats, and his close advisers urging him not to go to Memphis, King went to march in solidarity with that city’s sanitation workers. On April 4, 1968, he was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

Deeply impacted at the time by the assassination, we can follow two young men along King’s arc of moral justice all the way to Occupy Wall Street. One was John Carlos, a U.S. Olympic track star. Carlos won the bronze medal in the 200 meter race at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Carlos and his teammate Tommie Smith, who won the gold, raised their black-gloved fists in the power salute on the medal stand, instantly gaining global fame. They both stood without shoes, protesting black children in poverty in the United States. Last week, John Carlos spoke at Occupy Wall Street, and he told me after, “I’m just so happy to see so many people who are standing up to say: ‘We’re not asking for change. We demand change.’ ”

The other person is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He was with King when he was assassinated. Late Monday night, the New York Police Department seemed to be making a move on Occupy Wall Street’s first-aid tent. Jackson was there. Just days past his 70th birthday, Jackson joined arms with the young protesters, defying the police. The police backed off. And the arc of the moral universe bent a bit more toward justice.


Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate


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By glider, October 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm Link to this comment

Fascist Ozark Dude,

More tiresome disingenuous attacks.  How about a little honesty for a change?

>I suppose that is the advantage of being in the ‘arc of the moral universe’, from which you can demand that your beliefs be forced on everyone else<

The demand you belittle is for the removal of Crony Capitalism and return to a Democratic government that equally represents its citizens.  Hardly the tyranny your tone suggests eh?  With that point in mind please make your arguments for why you prefer Crony Capitalism Government, why you dislike competitive free market capitalism (based on good products and not government bribes), and why you prefer to take the people’s power of the vote away from them.

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By gerard, October 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm Link to this comment

The more I look at this statue, the more it strikes me as an example of atrociously bad taste—especially considering the humility of the man it is meant to honor.
  I think if he were alive to see it, he would be both embarrassed and horrified.
  My automatic reaction to it is to comment:  “Only in America!” because of the over-the-top ostentation
and falsity. How I wish it could have been a simple, heartfelt tribute to honor his honesty, earnestness and self-respect!  Sad.  Very sad.

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Oceanna's avatar

By Oceanna, October 19, 2011 at 11:41 am Link to this comment

“If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker
can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work
there.”

Fitting and to-be-expected words of appeasement spoken beneath a bastardized
statue, made in China.  There’s a symmetry between Obama’s words and their
setting, one of inauthenticity.

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, October 19, 2011 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

Last week, John Carlos spoke at Occupy Wall Street, and he told me after, “I’m just so happy to see so many people who are standing up to say: ‘We’re not asking for change. We demand change.’ ”

              -Amy Goodman

I suppose that is the advantage of being in the ‘arc of the moral universe’, from which you can demand that your beliefs be forced on everyone else.

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By SoTexGuy, October 19, 2011 at 10:27 am Link to this comment

Cut to the source. King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam’ sermon. Brilliant and inspiring.. free here..

http://lists.indymedia.org/pipermail/imc-audio/2007-January/0115-rz.html

I also recommend you get out your Bible and study the first Epistle of St. John.

Adios!

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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, October 19, 2011 at 7:44 am Link to this comment

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. 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.”

- Martin Luthet King, Jr., April 4, 1967

http://michaelfury.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/when-silence-is-betrayal/

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, October 19, 2011 at 1:20 am Link to this comment

Amy: If he were alive today, I believe he would remind us that we now face the horrific irony of the first African American President leading a European coalition in a neocolonialist war of aggression in Africa, targeting for genocidal elimination black Africans.

Moreover, this heinous war of terror on the civilians of Libya stands as such, as of Oct.  17…213-Day Bombardment: Almost 26,000 NATO Air Missions Against Libya Libya:  25,840 NATO Sorties, 9,554 Air Combat Missions

this, in addition to the raw and brutal ethnic cleansing of indigenous Libyans is only the beginning - Somalia is being bombed and troops are in Uganda - the goal is widespread destabilization across Africa, failed states, begging for ‘protection’ from terrorism - al qaeda brigades are the most prominent amongs the so-called NTC ‘rebels’. Al CIA-duh, the CIA’s Arab Foreign Legion, is now set to be deployed widely throughout Africa.

in all of this, the figure striking a steadfast self-determinacy most like Martin Luther King is Gaddafi himself,  as witnessed in his recent speech:

[...]

“4 tribes of Bani Walled, Surt, Warshfana tribe and Nawhi are well armed and they will never be defeated because honorable people can not be subjected.

All the people in LIBYA and true Libyans will not agree with the invasions and colonization.

We will fight for our freedom and we are ready for more sacrifices. The traitors,  colonizers and as well as NATO are going to be defeated soon.

[...]

listen to what T. West has to say about our first African American President and his war on Africa - http://www.youtube.com/user/AfriSynergy

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zonth_zonth's avatar

By zonth_zonth, October 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm Link to this comment

Hideous monstrosity.  Beware of
wooden nickels and false hommage
to idols in the form of placation.
Indeed the only guest not present in
a solemn procession~ sincerity

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By John Poole, October 18, 2011 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the monstrosity looks like it would fit right in in ancient Thebes. I think MLK has
been slyly “Ozimandized” for a poet way into the future.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, October 18, 2011 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment

prisnersdilema - No one could have said it better.

Almost everything in the Media today about MLK is either watered-down, distorted, out-of-context or simply not understood. Even more troubling is how little people in my (presumably well-educated) circle know or remember about MLK.

America doesn’t deserve him….......

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, October 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment

When I look at the King memorial, I say to myself that they finally found a way to turn
Martin Luther King into a white man. 

To sanitize and homogenize his message. To use him. To make what he said safe.

For the last thing in the world they want to remind people of is Black power.

That’s why you don’t see the larger than life statue of Mr. King. In black Obsidian. And
thats the part of Mr Kings message that’s missing from Amy’s post, not the moral issues
he raised. But the issues of power, and struggle because they are the most crucial ones
to remember.

Black power…is people power….Obama is just a drone..his job is to lead the faithful
astray, not to the promised land, but to dreamland.

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By gerard, October 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm Link to this comment

A beautifully composed piece, Amy.  Thank you very much!

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