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Deeply dishearteningly, Martin Luther King Jr.'s battle to "give us the ballot" goes on apace. He wrote from Birmingham Jail: "For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'” Photo by Bruce Davidson

Our Echoing Demands: There Comes A Time When the Cup of Endurance Runs Over

Abby Zimet

Groundhog-Day-like, America's soulless fraudsters are again pretending to honor Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights icon "whose achievements and values they spent the previous 364 days ignoring, demonizing and trying to dismantle," writes Michael Harriot. "Today, your favorite vote suppressors will take a brief respite from disenfranchising Black voters, denying history and increasing inequality" to celebrate "a walking, talking example of everything this country despises about the quest for Black liberation," en route heaping "performative praise (on) a caricature of a man whose likeness has been made palatable for white consumption." In a final, supreme insult, they will do so as major players in a "tidal wave"  of restrictive voting laws baring the stubborn, deadly, foundational racism that King, who refused to "settle for anything less than brotherhood," spent his life battling. Last year, the "extraordinary" and terrifyingly successful GOP effort to push history backwards saw state lawmakers introduce over 440 voting restriction bills in 49 states; to date, at least 19 states have passed 34 of those laws, with hundreds still pending. So please: Fuck these yahoos now blathering about MLK's legacy while, with staggering hypocrisy, they relentlessly work to undo what he did - especially in this now-or-never moment for voting rights and democracy itself. Through most of his too-brief 39 years, King ceaselessly, eloquently called to “Give Us the Ballot," America's most fundamental right: "Give us the ballot," he intoned, "and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens."

Over 50 years after his death, who would've thought equal access to the vote would remain a faraway, furiously-fought-for dream despite so much blood spilled and hope disappointed, today largely forgotten at an obscene historical moment when the Senate can't even pass a basic voting rights bill. WTF: John Lewis weeps in his grave. In 1965, King led the Selma-to-Montgomery march - starting with about 300 people, ending with about 30,000 - for precisely the same elemental right, though at that point against an outright, not implicit, segregationist system. (If teaching black history hadn't become criminalized as a mostly non-existent “Critical Race Theory,” more young people would know the march began after Jimmie Lee Jackson was murdered by an Alabama state trooper while trying to register to vote.) A vivid New Yorker account of the now-seminal march describes jeering mobs of white "segregationists" - ie racists - along the road yelling "Dirty nigger-lovers" and "Walk, coon!" and "Martin Luther Kink," the random scuffles and threats of snipers, the cold damp nights in tents, the mood shifting over days through fear, tedium, weariness, jubilation among people for whom, "There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over." Then, it seemed victory was within reach. Now, it seems ever further from us - sorry proof that "racism still stands at the center (of) much of our nation." "It is necessary to refute the idea of an America based on freedom and equality, with racism just an occasional departure from the norm on the part of a few bigoted extremists," King once said. "Racism can well be that corrosive evil that will bring down the curtain on Western civilization."

Today, argues Michael Harriott, author of "Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America," we agree to honor King's legacy only because enough time has passed "to sufficiently whitewash the radical who unapologetically fought for liberty and justice for all." Offering a reality check, he notes the man George Wallace once called "the most dangerous racist in America" was to most of the country "an anti-white commie" who over his 39 years never won the approval of a majority of white Americans. The "proverbial prophet without honor in his own land," just 32% of white Americans had a positive view of him in 1966; at his death in 1968, 3 of 4 disapproved of him, and a third felt he brought his murder on himself. And why not, says Harriott: "He railed against police brutality. He reminded the country of its racist past. He scolded the powers that be for income inequality and systemic racism. Not only did he condemn the openly racist opponents of equality, he reminded the legions of whites willing to sit idly by while their fellow countrymen were oppressed that they were also oppressors: 'He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.'" He sought to discomfit white people who "could not face the triumph of their lesser instincts" and keep peace within. "There must be a recognition on the part of everybody in this nation that America is still a racist country," said King "days before a white supremacist put a bullet in his face," writes Harriott. He goes on to cite our bitter moral and legal failure to honor King: "The bits of blood and bone that stained the balcony outside a Memphis hotel proves it. More importantly, the fact Black Americans are still fighting the same battles against voter suppression, inequality and the right to have a dream (is) the most accurate measuring rod of what this nation thinks about Martin Luther King."

In his long, pained 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, imprisoned for protesting against the city's segregation, responded to white clergy who called his acts of civil disobedience "unwise and untimely.” Quoting St. Augustine - “An unjust law is no law at all” - the son, grandson and great-grandson of preachers cites his "deep disappointment" in a white church "more devoted to 'order' than to justice...that has remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows...We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'"


Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: azimet18@gmail.com

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