2019 MLK Holiday Celebration shows shortcomings of today’s leaders

By Michael Dobson

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The juxtaposition of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Holiday, which celebrates a civil rights leader killed while supporting striking sanitation workers, against the back drop of a government shutdown… is glaring.

Government work… albeit local, state or federal, is what many Americans have used as a stepping stone to climb the economic ladder in America for generations. It is those jobs where families have been able to live with dignity, perhaps put a child through college and improve the lot of their family for generations to come. In 1968, Reverend James T. Lawson asked Dr. King to come to Memphis Tennessee and support sanitation workers who began a strike when city officials would not pay a fair wage.  Dr. King was to lead a non-violent demonstration on their behalves.  It was a time when many of the earlier preeminent civil rights battles had been fought and won, and therefore there was a shift in focus to other issues.  Dr King started putting more focus on not only civil rights;  but also issues of human rights, issues of fair pay, real opportunity, and tackling poverty. He went to where the need was. Often you hear of people (some celebrities and others) say they marched with king… to rightly remind our nation and our youth of the struggle; but what you rarely hear is that… Dr. King marched with them. YES, HE MARCHED WITH THEM.  He marched and rubbed elbows with the common man, broke bread with the common man… often times at that man’s home. He also went to jail with the common man, along side him… fighting on the behalf of the many. So, he knew the plight of those without  bootstraps in America… and could not pull themselves up alone, and wanted to improve their lots so that America would indeed live up to its own creed. The son of a Baptist minister, a learned man… he was them. It is no surprise that the plight of the common man and that of government workers is what led him to his death. It was there in Memphis Tennessee  where Dr. King will killed with an assassins bullet at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis Tennessee on April 4, 1968. I was approaching my 10th birthday .

Today, social media and news outlets have been abuzz during the King Holiday Celebration around the fact that it seems the current occupant in the White House chose not to engage in a large public celebration of Dr Kings Birthday , nor did he encourage others to celebrate  with any noteworthy rhetoric.  Perhaps he understood the optics, the irony and the juxtaposition of what he alone…  has owned, and  has done to countless families around America today, and how those actions are reaching into various parts of our national economy.  There can be nothing more contrary to the King legacy than the current government shutdown. First, it starts with an entrenched demand that a   “wall” between us and our neighbors be built. It’s a  Presidential  promised made to a few …shortly after ascending an escalator in Trump Plaza  to deliver what was the most racist and hate filled  statement ever made to the American people as a reason for a political campaign. He said that Mexicans ( a whole region of fellow humans)  where thieves, murderers and rapist…. then famously said  “some of them”  are good people. Shortly after that, it became one of his most frequently used campaign mantras in addition to “lock her up”. It was that if you elect me, we will “ build the wall”… meaning building a “wall” between the U. S. and Mexico, and then stated that Mexico would pay for it. Even a majority of the members of his own party does not support the idea. Moreover, Mexico in no uncertain terms (in their former Presidents language) has said that "they will not pay for the F------ wall".

Neither did Dr.  King or President Ronald Reagan build walls, they tore them down. For Dr. King, we are all brothers.... regardless of where we live on the globe, to never equate an entire ethnicity or inhabitants of any region to be  sole  purveyors of  the  most deplorable acts of all of humanity. One man sows peace, while the other plays to our most basic fears, our hatred … and particularly whatever fears that  dwell in the hearts of some about those who are different…. who speak a different language, have a different sexual orientation, a different hew of the skin… or more pigmentation.   Today’s contradictions of who we are and our place in the world  is glaring when held side by side with the life and legacy of Dr. King, Ronald Reagan and others . Some suggest the  current administration decided  not to engage in an elaborate celebration or acknowledgement the holiday because it knew that  the backdrop of the shutdown against the King legacy would produce shocking criticism from various corners. But more fundamentally, it shows us where we are as a nation. It shows that even if we are not going backward, we certainly are not going forward. Its showing us that an appreciation for regular working people has become a thing of the past and we no longer consider what we know from history with regard to the workers movement in America… the movement that allowed many to enter the middle class. But this is happening while we also say we are putting America  and its people first.

On January 21, 2019 we celebrated a civil rights icon as we do each year on the third Monday of January. The Federal government was closed due to that national holiday. They did not have to work. But the next day they had to work They did so without pay. More like, forced to do so without pay.  It was our government doing this, not a plantation owner in the deep  south in the 1700’s or 1800’s… but our government as directed by our President  in 2021. History shedded a tear on Monday. On Monday, it was as if the lessons learned from Ghandi,  Dr. Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, John Wesley , Martin Luther  and the son of God as learned about in our bibles…. have all been ignored.   I believe in America. We are a resilient nation. So, I don’t believe the work of Dr. King and others were in vain. But I am concerned.

Michael Dobson is a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist, founder of Dobson, Craig and Associates, publisher of Talking Florida Politics, President/CEO of the Dream Foundation,Inc and founder of the Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association. Reach him at Michael@dobsonandcraig.com

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