The most moving moment in yesterday’s dedication of the state of Martin Luther King Jr. on the Mall came at the end, when everybody linked arms and sang, “We Shall Overcome.”
It’s such a wonderful song, so full of optimism, and in a way so gentle for a 1960s song of protest. I was glad that quite a few speakers made the point that much has been overcome. But I was distressed that many speakers also appeared to want to turn the event into a rally for Occupy Wall Street and the re-election of President Obama.
Occupy Wall Street is a confused but angry movement that is mad about the wrong things. Unlike the movement Dr. King led, Occupy Wall Street is composed primarily of brats.
I was glad that Clarence Jones, who had collaborated with Martin Luther King on many of his speeches, warned against violence at Occupy Wall Street. While Jones said that the goals of Occupy Wall Street are good, he noted that there was violence during an Occupy-related rampage in Rome. Jones recalled that Dr. King believed in the philosophy of non-violence.
I was sorry (but not surprised) that President Obama turned the event into a campaign speech. He emphasized how long it had taken for the Civil Rights movement to succeed—as in, yeah, I know the country is a mess, but re-elect me anyway. From the Washington Times:
“I raise all this because nearly 50 years after the march on Washington, our work, Dr. King’s work, is not yet complete,” Mr. Obama said. “And so as we think about all the work that we must do, rebuilding an economy that can compete on a global stage, fixing our schools so that every child, not just some, but every child gets a world-class education, making sure that our health care system is affordable and accessible to all and that our economic system is one in which everybody gets a fair shake, and everybody does their fair share, let us not be trapped by what is. We can’t be discouraged by what is. We’ve got to keep pushing for what ought to be.”
Speaking of the political rally atmosphere:
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young told the crowd at the memorial that the GOP was to blame for the recent banking crisis, tracing it back to the repeal in 1999 of provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act that had separated investment banks from commercial banks.
I realize that is was inspirational to have the nation’s first African-American president speak at the event. But President Obama’s policies haven’t helped black people, especially black youths, who are experiencing an unemployment rate of 16.7.
Several times, I wanted to shake speakers and say, “You have overcome.” The problem today isn’t that doors are closed for African-Americans. The problem is prosperity itself is under attack. I listen to the kids of Occupy Wall Street say they want the rich to give them their money. Take it all, kids, and then try to figure out where the next dime is coming from because the rich can go on strike, too. They can move or quit producing money just to be confiscated.
The people of Occupy Wall Street have plenty of reason to be distressed—unfortunately they just don’t know the real reasons for their economic woes. (In yesterday’s campaign speech, President Obama spoke of providing for the young a “world-class education;” right about now, listening to the prattle of Occupy Wall Street, I’d settle for education that provided basic logic and literary. Oh, and maybe at a reasonable price—a lot of what Occupy is angry about is that they begin their young lives saddled with college loan debt.)
Oddly enough, as Robert Samuelson makes clear in today’s Washington Post, both the speakers at the King event and Occupy have targeted the wrong villains. We need prosperity and the president’s policies and the hatred for those who have done well won’t bring this.
It is also distressing that we have a president who will embrace this movement as a way to increase his chances of being re-elected.