Martin Luther King's Movement-Building Legacy
Americans from all walks of life are questioning the legitimacy and morality of the American political system and wondering how to create a government of, by, and for the people to replace government of, by, and for corporations, which is what we have now. Because southern blacks have struggled so long and hard for their democratic rights and because the methods used to disenfranchise blacks and Latinos in Jeb Bush country on election day were so blatantly racist, blacks are again in the lead.
On December 15, the NAACP organized a spirited “Every Voter Counts” march in Florida. On January 6, members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked out rather than accept the electoral college vote awarding the presidency to Bush. Black leaders like Ron Daniels took the initiative in organizing the counter-inaugural, which challenged the legitimacy of the Bush presidency on January 20.
But the struggle goes far beyond race and rights. We are in the early stages of a new democratic revolutionary movement that will take us far beyond the democratic revolution that began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and ended with the black rebellions. We need a vision that will make clear that we are at one of the great turning points in human history, when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our trust in one another require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values.
We need programs that move us towards this vision. One of the main contradictions the movement needs to resolve is that even though we talk a lot about our love for democracy, most Americans take little responsibility for governing our country. We leave this to our elected representatives, even though we know they serve corporate interests and therefore make decisions that threaten our biosphere and widen the gulf between rich and poor. In practice we are consumers, not responsible citizens.
We also need programs that involve us in creating the rudiments of more democratic institutions. We need to organize independent citizens committees to monitor elections in every precinct. In every neighborhood we need to begin creating local assemblies to debate and decide local issues such as public transit, recycling, demolishing or rehabbing abandoned houses, locating landfills. In this way we can make democracy more participatory and decentralized and therefore more democratic.
To transform our struggles into a self-developing movement, we also need to involve school children and young people with the same confidence that the civil rights movement showed when it engaged them in the struggle against segregation. This is the best way to demonstrate to our children that the city is their land and at the same time to reverse the deterioration of our communities and cities. In order to internalize the relationship between actions and consequences and between cause and effect, our children need to be involved early in community-building and productive activities. That is how we human beings have developed our humanness down through the ages.
Ten years ago a lot of people saw the collapse of Soviet communism as proof of the final victory of American democracy. Wiser heads warned that Americans would now have to begin facing the internal contradictions in our own economics and politics. That is where we are today. The movement to resolve these contradictions is already in the making. We can help deepen and expand it by rediscovering the movement-building power in the ideas of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Grace Boggs is a Detroit activist, writer, and veteran of the civil rights movement. Excerpted with the author's permission from her remarks at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Symposium in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, on January 15, 2001.
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