Monday, January 18, 2010


Where I come from, Martin Luther King Day is no more important than Arbor Day. Everyone still goes to work. Everyone still goes to school. It wasn’t until I moved to Milwaukee that I realized some people take this holiday seriously. Namely, black people. Since there were, maybe, three black people in Appleton when I was growing up, MLK day was not a big deal. Milwaukee, however, has a large black population. Thus, big deal. The university was shut down, and people actually mentioned it.

Now I live in Atlanta. Ebenezer Baptist Church, where MLK was a pastor, is about a mile from my house. I was excited for the festivities of MLK day, and not just because I like large gatherings of happy people.

We drove to Ebenezer around noon. On the way there, we had the radio on. They were playing an MLK speech with a Dr. Dre beat behind it. I guess you gotta get the kids to listen somehow, right?

After parking, we walked to MLK’s tomb. It was a fairly somber atmosphere. A lot of people had their cameras and video recorders out, but there was also a large group of disinterested kids that had obviously been dragged their by their parents. It was a little weird standing in front of the tomb. Within that concrete box lay the man that everyone has loved so much that they pretty much beatified him.

I also thought about how weird tombs are. We lock dead people in boxes that will never disintegrate. Which I guess is also kinda funny since MLK was all about integration, but I digress. These revered people are forced to become a pile of mush that will never do what the pile of mush is supposed to do: Become one with the earth and contribute to new life. Whatever, I just think it’s weird. If I ever die, I want to be tossed into a hole, no coffin, so the earthworms can dig into my freshly dead flesh. Here’s to you, worms.

We left the tomb and I became annoyed. What was the first thing I saw? A table promoting light bulbs. Because that has a lot to do with civil rights and community organizing, right? The street was blocked off for a few blocks and booths had been set up all along it. There were many people hocking shoddily made MLK shirts, MLK bracelets, MLK necklaces, MLK posters, etc. Oh yeah, and deep-fried Oreos. Can’t forget about the Oreos.

After running the gauntlet of exploitation we walked to the church across the street from the tomb, where they were having the service. We had watched some of the service on TV before we left. They had a large TV and sound system set up outside the church so the people that couldn’t get inside could still hear the service. I was bored with the speakers we had seen earlier. They all pretty much said how great MLK was (which is to be expected), made a reference to Obama, and tried to sound important. No one had anything new or interesting to say.

However, the final speaker, Dr. Cornell West, the one that was speaking when we were there, was really good. He effortlessly spoke in the “important” tone that the other speakers were trying to imitate. He was animated, funny (at one point he discussed moral constipation and the need for moral diarrhea), clever, and did a great job of referencing MLK while also extrapolating from his teachings. At one point, we walked over to the church while he was on and looked through the windows. We couldn’t hear what he was saying while doing this but we could see his body language. Even a deaf person would have enjoyed his whole speech.

After he finished, we drove home and I grabbed my bike to head back downtown for the march. About ten blocks of Peachtree were sectioned off and there were people everywhere. I got there before it started so I walked on the sidewalk from the starting point to the end.

People were everywhere. Some were chanting, some were singing, some were beating drums and dancing. Everyone was in great spirits. One thing I found a little strange were the protesters. They weren’t protesting MLK or anything like that. They were protesting completely unrelated topics like health care and unemployment. I’m all for organizing like this, but what did they hope to accomplish? Yelling, “more jobs!” at someone that works at Walgreen’s isn’t going to further your cause at all. Good try, maybe next time.

The whole atmosphere had a sense of comradery to it that, I guess, MLK hoped we would have every day. It was great to see, but also a little disheartening. I knew that January 19th would be the same as January 17th. People will still be mugging each other, people will still be ignored. Luckily, I missed the news because I probably would have kicked a hole in it if there were any robberies today. I’m sure there were, that’s why I’m not looking at the websites.

When the march started, I was near the beginning in front of the Hooters restaurant. It wasn’t intentional, just a happy accident. As the groups went past me, I got to see all the adolescent males notice the Hooters, tap their friends on the shoulder, and laugh/yell/wave at the girls watching from the window. Amusing.

This was the first MLK day that I thought anything beyond, “Shit, the post office is closed.” Watching the speeches, well, I guess just Dr. West’s speech, actually had an impact on me. This was not expected. I think it’s because the goal they have, the world they want to live in (as do I), would be very easy to reach if people weren’t such jackasses. The solutions are very simple. It basically boils down to, “don’t be an asshole.” That’s it. Don’t be an asshole and we can have parades where everyone’s smiling and kids wave at Hooters girls every day. Doesn’t that sound nice?

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