On August 28, 1963 over 250,000 people participated in the “Marched on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” where eighteen luminaries spoke for an end to racism and support for policies that would provide economic security for all Americans. The program for the march ended with the text “WE SHALL OVERCOME.” The speech by Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is remembered to this day. Millions continue to make his dream a reality.
I remember visiting the hardware store in Luray, Virginia with my father around the time of King’s speech where it was possible to buy a mass produced “Colored Men,” “White Men,” “White Women” or “Colored Women” signs for your public rest room, swimming pool or other facility needing segregation. Many stores in town placed the popular “No Jews Allowed” signs in their shop windows, most bought at that same hardware store. My elementary school was forced to let African Americans attend classes on our side of the tracks when I started the sixth grade. All black students were diagnosed as having Down Syndrome and assigned to the Special Education Class with the white students that did need some special education.
The”desegregated” Luray Elementary also had mandatory weekly Christian Education classes that noted each Easter that “jews had killed Jesus” a message many students shared with our only jewish classmate as he sat alone in the hall way during bible class waiting to be ridiculed. My parents were Episcopalians and were not pleased that our public school was forcing their children to be told that the Pentecostal denomination was the “only true religion.” My family was also close to the jewish family so my mother and father spoke for a separation of church and state at during a Parents Teachers Association meeting. That evening my classmate’s parents surrounded our home at Shenandoah National Park Headquarters yelling hateful curses as they threw rocks at our house. A few parents even arrived with flaming torches giving a Ku Klux Klan atmosphere to the fearful assault.
As we struggled over the issue of discrimination in rural Virginia a war was raging far off in a country called Viet Nam that was televised each night to our family’s dinner table on a huge Ethan Allen black and white TV. My mother’s brother was eager to join the battle as an Army Ranger. His father spent the war trying to get General Curtis LeMay and General Robert McNamara to drop the nuclear bomb on Hanoi.
Every once in a great while our TV would show news of a protest in Washington DC. A local family would send a child off to the jungle and at times a classmate would arrive at school in shock after learning that their older brother or father had been killed in Asia. Frustrated young teachers employed to avoid the draft would provide corporal punishment with a bread board costume drilled for maximum pain. The war had come to Virginia.
My father supervised a dozen college students that worked as Seasonal Park Rangers leading nature walks, giving campfire programs and helping tourists at the visitor centers. One of his employees gave him a copy of “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau. After reading the classic he passed it on to his fifth grade son and having just learned to read I started with the shorter essay in the back, “Civil Disobedience.” Thoreau’s lecture explained his reasons for protesting the war against Mexico responding by spending a night in jail for refusing to pay is war taxes. Thoreau’s essay made a huge impression on this elementary student helping inspire a life dedicated to taking nonviolent direct action towards a world free of war, poverty and racism along with a Park Service kid’s natural interest in defending the environment. Many of us that heard King’s words stayed in the struggle even though the corporate media has done all it can to conceal this fact.
Fifty years later America has made a lot of headway. No more lunch counter sit-ins for those that can buy lunch and anyone that can afford to ride the bus can use any seat. Now people of color are treated “equally” with their desperate and homeless white “neighbors.”
This anniversary could not be more bitter sweet. The August 2013 memorials at the Lincoln Monument have been marred by hypocrisy as the Democratic Party spits on King’s Dream. It was difficult to see now Congressman John Lewis have to once again temper his speech forced by current events to direct his attention to defending the rights of all to vote.
Who let Congresswoman Pelosi speak after she had supported a decades long campaign of violence against the homeless and Food Not Bombs volunteers in San Francisco? A campaign of civil rights violations she vocally supported even to the extent that she had me arrested after I complemented her for her support of human rights in China following up with a suggesting she support efforts to stop San Francisco Mayor Jordan’s “Quality of Life Matrix Program” to drive the poor out of town. Pelosi statements attacking Snowden should have been enough to keep her speaking at the 50th anniversary of King’s I Have a Dream Speech.
Another travesty was the speech of Attorney General Holder who used the FBI to frame, arrest and brutally drive the Occupy Movement off America’s streets while he and Obama are bending over backwards to protect corporate power. How many bankers have been jailed compared to those of us participating in peaceful occupations? We are watching our civil liberties disappear as each day exposes another elaborate domestic surveillance operation. The type of COINTELPRO techniques used by the FBI and other agencies to disrupt and ultimately murder Martin Luther King.Jr because of his dream continue to be implemented by Holder’s FBI.
According to internal memos obtained by Partnership for Civil Justice Fund Holder’s FBI silently watched or maybe even helped “formulate a plan to kill the leadership (of Occupy) via suppressed sniper rifles” yet he and Pelosi denigrated King’s legacy by speaking from the stage during the 50th anniversary commemoration. Obama is marking the anniversary by blocking UN weapons inspectors from discovering that the chemical weapons attack in Syria was launched by rebels.
He may spend billions on bombs just to send his message that America is the only country free to use weapons of mass distraction. Billions that could be used for education, universal healthcare or repair of America’s Infrastructure. Clinton is also speaking at the Lincoln Memorial yet one in two Americans are struggling to survive as a direct result of his policies of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the deregulation of the banking industry. My friends in Serbia can tell you how ‘humanitarian” Clintons war was. Belgrade Food Not Bombs volunteer Emma shared her stories of being a nurse at a special hospital for children deformed by America’s depleted uranium bombs. Over 700 children some with two heads, four arms, one eye or even more freakish birth defects. America’a chemical weapons attacks in Iraq crossed the Reddest of Red Lines with nerve gas and phosphorous attacks on the people of Fallujah and tons of Depleted Uranium used across the country. Iraq is still at war and the special hospitals like those in Serbia are busy treating freaks born to loving families left behind in another war based on lies of weapons of mass distraction.
As you read this Obama may have already launch his “humanitarian” war” on Syria. Russia may be participating in the conflict taking the first steps towards a world war. America’s surveillance state may be in high gear busy silencing protest against the bombings. If the pressure for peace, freedom and an end to poverty grows too strong Obama may order the assassination of today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Gas prices in the United States may rob families of their next meal. Crop failures caused by climate change and GMO industrial agriculture are sure to increase food prices. The new cuts in food stamps and higher grocery costs might lead to food riots and groups like Food Not Bombs may be facing arrest in even more American cities than we are today.
It is more important than ever to build community and organize for King’s Dream. You could start or join a local Food Not Bombs chapter. Help staff one of our literature tables, write and design publications to distribute at your public meals. Maybe start preparing vacant lots in your community for next springs Food Not Lawns Garden. In the next few weeks we may want to organize local protests against the global war or join in actions to stop fracking, tar sands pipelines, mining, clear cutting and nuclear power. Banking criminals and foreclosures still need to be stopped. Consider rehousing our community by organizing a Homes Not Jails group and providing food to the occupations. There isn’t a protest that does not require a great vegan meal. We will be sharing food at the Taos Protest Against the War on Syria this Saturday at noon on the Taos Plaza.
If you are about to attend college you can make a huge difference by asking those who are leading student groups on your campus to bring the Smashing Hunger Squashing Poverty tour to your school. The tour starts in late September so don’t wait. It is a great way to help inspire your classmates to join you in making positive change. Please share our website with your classmates.
Thanks for having taken the time to consider taking nonviolent direct action on our path to overcoming the crisis we face today.
Keith McHenry is the co-founder of the Food Not Bombs Movement.