“An individual has not started living fully until they can rise above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of humanity….Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?”
“I refuse to accept the view… that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
by Bob Schelen
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a tenacious advocate for the elimination of discrimination, and a tireless advocate for the poor. I know this is after this year’s day of celebration for Dr. King, however, if we only pay attention to Dr. King’s message on one day, we are only paying lip-service to the causes he fought for.
After the celebrations and the remembrances, we must continue to work throughout the year, all the years, we cannot stop at one day. Especially know, especially when we have to fight to retain the progress we have made. Remember, Dr. King was an activist that wanted us to move mountains, for the end of poverty, to work against social injustice and economic inequality.
In 1994, this holiday, first observed nationally in 1984 (and by California in 1978, ultimately becoming a paid holiday in 1981) was expanded by President Clinton’s signature on the Martin Luther King Junior Federal Holiday and Service Act. This act expanded the mission of the holiday to be a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.
Dr. King encouraged Americans to come together to strengthen communities, alleviate poverty and acknowledge dignity and respect for all human beings. Service, he realized, was the great equalizer and we honor his memory by giving back to the community. We need to do it all year long. Especially at the local level.
Consider what you can do to continue Dr. King’s mission throughout the year. The opportunities are limited only by your imagination.
At the State level, California has a proud tradition of leadership on civil rights. We were one of the first states in the nation to pass laws protecting the rights of racial and religious minorities. In 1959, the Legislature passed the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which forbade discrimination in employment. Four years later, the California Legislature enacted the Rumford Fair Housing Act. Steps were also taken to increase minority enrollment in the state’s colleges and universities.
Those opposed to civil rights and civil liberties reacted swiftly and loudly. These opponents responded by placing Proposition 14 on the November 1964 ballot. This proposition proposed to repeal the Rumford Fair Housing Act and amend the California Constitution to ban future anti-discrimination legislation. Fear became the driving force behind the campaign and the proposition was approved by the voters. It was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.
Labor, religious and civil rights organizations formed a progressive coalition that continued to push for legislative and administrative change. Fair housing and human rights commissions were established at the local, state and federal levels to monitor the enforcement of the government’s anti-discrimination policy. Progress was also made in other areas, including television and the movies.
By the time Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he had set in motion the forces of social change. In the process of changing the laws, he also succeeded in moving public attitudes towards race relations. The African American civil rights movement also created opportunities for other disadvantaged groups, including those with disabilities.
Forty-nine years after Dr. King’s death, the participation of African Americans in the political and economic mainstream has increased significantly. President Obama was a testament to the hard work of these civil rights pioneers. But, clearly with the election of Donald Trump, we know there is more work to do.
In recent years, the shooting of unarmed African-Americans by law enforcement has caused us to look how we can improve police/community relations. This is a sensitive and important topic that should not be left to fester without significant discussion and action. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
And, have voting still not become universal; there are organized efforts designed to keep African Americans (and other minority groups) from voting in impoverished urban and rural areas. It is just amazing that in 20016, we continued to see blatant efforts to clearly depress the votes of Latinos, Black, poor people and students’ difficulties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, and yes, even California!
What was amazing was hundreds stood in line to vote, remembering Dr. King’s legacy. However the efforts to depress the vote of students and people of color found success in 2016 as we saw the voter turnout decrease precipitously in communities of color. We need to be ever vigilant in our efforts to fight this suppression of the vote in 2018 and beyond.
Indeed, there continues to be in state legislature after state legislature, bills to suppress the ability to vote…and this suppression has been aimed at the very people that Dr. King and others fought so hard to secure their right to vote…people of color, low-income people and students among them. And although many take pride that an African American can now ascend to the Presidency and be re-elected, there are others that, remarkably, continue to question if the President is even a citizen and one of those people has now been elected President!
There are studies that show there is race relations have declined in the years President Obama has been in office and it is clear there has been a backlash to many of the policies put in place to create a more just world. Such things show us that we still have much work to do.
And this month that we honor the life of Dr. King is the perfect place to start. Let us do so in way that would make him proud, by fighting against injustice everywhere, including our local communities.