Martin Luther King Jr. was a martyr. The word martyr means “witness.” Given what we’ve all seen done by the Republican Party over the past two weeks, let’s hope they at least know the meaning of the word repentance. King died trying to set people free. Half a century later we’ve had to witness a sitting US president praising an armed mob, some of whom were carrying confederate flags, storm the Capitol. Then, that very night, we watched Republicans still attempt to repress legitimate votes in order to keep white supremacy in power. The set-backs of the Trump administration will take years to overcome. King stood for equality. He called for fair treatment. He knew his Bible. Now those who cynically hold the Good Book up for the camera can’t quote it but can tear down everything it stands for.
We need Martin Luther King Day. This year especially. We need to be reminded that all people deserve fair treatment. Justice isn’t a meaningless word. The color of one’s skin is no indicator of inherent worth—that belongs to everybody. Throughout the country there are heartfelt memorials to King. The various Trump towers—often segregated and reserved for the wealthy—are monuments of a different sort. There is power in symbols. Those who praise and crave money above human need will ultimately be remembered for how evil seeped into their bones. How hatred of others and narcissism defined their rotten moral core. Today we try to focus on a good example, but present reality keeps getting in the way.
Four years ago I joined about 1.3 million marchers in Washington, DC. The Women’s March, as estimated by government officials on the ground, was more than twice as large as the media estimates still tout. I’ve puzzled over this for four years—why when an oppressed group makes a stand officials and pundits feel the need to downplay it. King made a stand and he had a dream that one day we wouldn’t have to make marches on Washington just so that everyone could have the equal treatment they deserve. Human rights are the only rights we have. Even as some haters are planning further acts of violence to object to a humanitarian president, we are given a necessary reminder that all people deserve fair treatment. Black lives do matter. Why has half a century not been enough to assimilate that simple message? We need to sober up from the drunkenness of irresponsible power. We need to learn the simple fact that nobody should be killed for being black. That whiteness is toxic. That we need to call out those who would use privilege to claim otherwise.