I wonder if Martin Luther King Jr. could have conceived of this weekend in his mind. After all, having a holiday named for you after being jailed, stabbed, vilified, and shot is no mean feat. To have your celebration in 2009 culminate in the inauguration of the first president of African descent makes it even more poignant.
One might even be tempted to say that we have overcome, resonating a response back to the call of the civil rights movement song.
Yet if King were here, I suspect he would caution the incoming president, and the nation. The violence that has scarred this nation throughout its history would loom uppermost in his mind. For a man whose life melded the principles of Christianity, Hindu philosophy, and nonviolent resistance, King would not be convinced by campaign promises of hope, politically correct appointments, and begrudging accolades from supercilious right-wing commentators.
He would want action, action that comes not just from the lawmakers, but from the streets and its people. He would call all of us to help reduce the violent deaths of young African-American men, dramatically on the rise since 2000. He would protest on behalf of the veterans of multiple tours in Iraq, who are returning home to find foreclosed homes and poor job prospects, and wrestling with post-traumatic stress syndrome. He would rail against the collapse of the financial system, foreclosures, and the many businesses, large and small, on the ropes. He would call for a new poor peoples’ campaign. And he would ask aloud what happened to America, and not just the America of the “small town” either.
He would not be silent, and he would not be content with this important milestone of a black President. MLK would want more from America, and its people.
Inauguration day is important, because President-elect Obama must inspire more than just a feel-good call to service in all of us. I personally hope that the candidate I supported on the monthly layaway campaign plan can do more than just make a soaring speech.
If King could mobilize a nation to stare down its horrific racial past, perhaps this is the weekend his memory and life can remind us once again what our nation is really about, and call us back to the conviction that now is the time we need to move on from Yes we can, to Yes, we are, and Yes, we did.