August 28, 2013 by Julia
You may have heard that the president is giving a speech today. Apparently, the proper way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is for Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Jamie Foxx, Al Sharpton and other assorted characters to give speeches about how oppressive voter ID laws are.
For various reasons, I’ve been listening to talk radio all summer (before this, I only ever listened to talk radio when I was on work trips and my pre-set radio stations fizzled out due to distance–that is how I once stumbled onto the Occupy Wall Street radio program, which was EPIC). Rush Limbaugh today excerpted a later speech delivered by Dr. King:
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
Limbaugh made the point–with which I agree–that Dr. King’s memory has been co-opted for political purposes (i.e. his memory is used to rally support for or rail against today’s political issues, without attention being paid to things he actually said). The corollary to that point is that in the process of using Dr. King’s memory to gin up opposition to policies which have absolutely nothing to do with race by calling their supporters racists, no one thinks to consider how Dr. King would feel about, say, 12.6% unemployment for black people, 30 to 35% of all abortions in the U.S. being performed on black babies despite blacks being around 12.6% of the population, or 72% of black children who make it past abortion being born to single mothers.
You can present your response to the decline of black culture the way Runaway Slave does, using facts and figures. Or, you can envision what Dr. King would say if he were here:
Either way, I doubt President Obama (or anyone else on that podium) is willing to say what people need to hear.