The cost of comfort is worth fulfillment of King's dream
What a way to ring in Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Here it is, more than 30 years after he led voting rights marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and the civil rights groups that he inspired are suing Florida over that same issue.
On top of that, elderly and Jewish voters who complain about election irregularities receive ridicule, not empathy. The outrage of African-American voters earns them contempt from people swaddled in the status quo.
King might have been saddened by this redux of voting problems, problems compounded by insensitivity and indifference.
Then again, he might have been heartened to see that people are still willing to fight to spur solutions. Still willing to sue. Still willing to march. Still willing to make their pain public to get justice.
After all, that was what King did. He got up in the system's face to get justice.
Many people, however, seem to have forgotten that.
It's understandable. Over the years, King's legacy has, in many quarters, faded into feelgoodery over his 'I Have A Dream,' speech. People celebrate the fact that African-Americans no longer have to confront police dogs on the way to the polls, but forget that subtler barriers can bite just as savagely. Some also confuse King's embrace of passive resistance with passive acceptance.
But King was an agitator -- and proud of it, too. But don't take my word for it.
On confronting the system, King said: ' Americans who genuinely treasure our national ideals, who know that they are still elusive dreams for all too many, should welcome the stirring of Negro demands. They [black people] are shattering the complacency that allowed a multitude of social ills to accumulate. Negro agitation is requiring America to re-examine its comforting myths and may yet catalyze the drastic reforms that will save us from social catastrophe.'
Sounds to me like King said agitation -- not violence -- can be constructive. Sounds to me like he said Americans should listen to, not demonize, people whose outrage make them uncomfortable -- if for no other reason than to avoid repeating the problems that fueled it.
On justice, King said: 'Justice for black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory. Nor will a few token changes quell all the tempestuous yearnings of millions of disadvantaged black people the comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo.'
Sounds to me like he said that the quest for racial justice didn't end when the 'Whites only,' signs came down. Change takes time.
On peace, King said: 'True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.'
To those folks who mistake the silence of suffering people for satisfaction -- hint, hint.
See, King was a man who was deeper than a dream. He had lived in the stuffy closet of segregation. He had seen how, at that time, many white people thought he and other blacks owed to society to stay there. And wait for them to say when to come out.
But King wasn't one to wait.
Nor was he one to tell downtrodden people to stifle their sentiments when they believed they had been wronged. He urged them to fight. Because in the end, he knew everyone would be better off.
He knew this country's greatness would be diminished as long as the comfortable ones expect progress to turn on the silence of the uncomfortable. Knew that this country's
greatness would be diminished if suffering people never found a way to turn their outrage into action.
I believe King would have encouraged the groups that are suing to get answers about what happened to Florida voters on Election Day 2000.
I believe they are part of the legacy he inspired; that they are key to seeing to it that the voting rights that he helped African-Americans win by facing down intimidation won't be lost through indifference or technicality.
They don't want trouble. They want answers. They want justice.
Even if it comes at the cost of some folks' comfort.