Occupying King’s Dream?


Photo Credit: Seattle Times

Every year on what is now commonly referred to as MLK Day, the media floods the airwaves with a barrage of programs dedicated to his memory, or segments on “civil rights in America today.”  Talking heads discuss how far we have come, and what else needs to be done.

Television viewers, radio listeners, and folks on the Internet comment, if only for a day, and then go back to their regular lives, convinced progress is being made, as if all Dr. King espoused were encapsulated in the “I have a Dream” speech. As Dr. West often says, “we deodorize him.”

Before Dr. King’s birthday, while listening to the Marc Steiner show, I learned about a new effort to link his philosophy with present day struggles, the Occupy the Dream movement. Essentially, it involves African-American faith leaders aligning themselves with members of Occupy Wall Street in an effort to bring more folks of color into the struggle, and demand very specific changes in national policy, which, according to the group’s press release, includes:

Photo Credit: The Washington Post
  1. A Constitutional Amendment to limit the amount of and role of corporate money in politics;
  2. Full funding of Pell Grants and greater access to low interest student loans;
  3. An end to the Bush Era Tax cuts that assist the rich;
  4. An immediate end to foreclosures and the development of a plan to put people back in their homes;
  5. Employment and training programs for the returning soldiers who come back and others in need;
  6. Rebuilding the Nations Infrastructure including bridges, roads, tunnel, highway, etc.
These are weighty policy changes, and ultimately, for them to take place, there must be what Dr. King called, “a radical transformation of values” in society. How does a movement of this kind accomplish that in a tangible way? How does it illustrate the brutality of economic inequality, and disillusionment gripping college students whose post-graduate debt cripples them? 
I believe it transcends pressuring politicians (while this certainly has it place). Yet if we don’t work to fundamentally change the society which our politicians inhabit, when they leave office, and the pendulum of public opinion shifts, we are back to square one. There are no easy solutions ahead of us, marches and rallies will not accomplish it all; often these actions amplify our voices, while pitting us against the opposition in a simplistic way, and no side truly listens to the other. Listening is a fundamental element of change. If my heart remains tightened, and my ears closed, how can I understand you? 
Photo Credit: Emelda De Coteau
Perhaps occupying King’s dream begins with each one of us wrestling with the enormity of that statement daily, and beginning to unpack what it means to live in acknowledgement that one day, as many progressive Christians know from reading Matthew 20:16: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” 
It involves the arduous work of going into communities where folks differ from us in ideology, and laying out the human cost to us as a nation of embracing militarism and mass incarceration over peace and rehabilitation. Art, from film to theater and visual art, which not only entertains, but asks the kind of questions no thinking person can ignore for long, is another useful mechanism. 
Still, occupations are not meant to be eternal. Ultimately, let’s move towards embodying the dream, thereby radically transforming ourselves first, and finally, our country and the world. 
Emelda De Coteau
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