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January 12, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks on the war in Iraq, courtesy CODEPINK

-- by Thomas Leavitt

"A true revolution of values will say of war, 'This way of settling differences is not just.'…I call on Washington today, I call on every man and woman of goodwill all over America today: Take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late; a book may close. And I don't know about you -- I ain't going to study war no more."
- Martin Luther King

The email I got from CODEPINK advertises "Martin Luther King: Watch & Be Inspired!" and the Flash video truly lives up to that billing... but then, anything using Martin's voice would be inspiring. I could hear him speak a hundred times, and not be left unmoved.

But... but... here is my question: Where is the Martin Luther King, Jr. of today?

Why is the greatest moral authority on the conduct of this war a voice forty years out of the past? Has the stature of our leaders diminished so much since then... or their courage?

Something is very wrong here, when we as a movement have no choice but to reach back to iconic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. to get our message across with any moral authority.

Has the mainstream media have so stifled alternative voices, that none have had a chance to develop the same stature... is that the answer? Or could it be that, perhaps, no one in today's establishment has determined that permitting someone to achieve the same level of recognition and moral authority suits their political convenience?

Has the right wing really crippled our ability to develop and communicate our message so badly, that even our most prominent voices are folks known only to a few... who in the anti-war movement qualifies as a household name? Or are we, ourselves, in the anti-war movement, doing something wrong?

Or is it that we are just lesser men and women than our predecessors... what am I missing?

Posted by Thomas Leavitt at January 12, 2006 5:07 PM

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Comments

Too right you are, Thomas! If only the left had a figure like Martin Luther King Jr today to stand up to the mighty Wurlitzer of the right ..

Posted by: Helga Fremlin at January 13, 2006 12:24 PM

I think you are asking one of the most important questions about contemporary progressive politics.

One piece of the answer is that the successes of past movements have diversified who gets to claim full citizenship -- but because of that diversification, it is hard for any one figure to serve as a symbol of moral authority on the broad political stage.

Probably the most important anti-war individual is Cindy Sheehan. I know she won't do for many, probably especially some men and some people of color (though I think she makes inroads there.) A lot of her authority derives from in her claim to ordinariness which doesn't play well with the political class.

Russ Feingold and John Murtha (differently) have seized the antiwar role in the political class -- but they don't play to the moral issue; their antiwar stance is ultimately prudential. The leaders that make the big impact murge the two kinds of force.

BTW, I think some people who might be able to rise to the role you hope to fill remember the truth that MLK ended up dead. Going where he went requires risking that.

Posted by: janinsanfran at January 13, 2006 5:42 PM

I think Cindy Sheehan is important... she single handedly sparked a revival of the anti-war movement, in my opinion. Hats off to her for that.

That said... I honestly don't have any idea how effective a public speaker she is, how effective an organizer / leader she is, how sophisticated and capable of addressing a broad array of issues she is, etc.

I think you're right that the folks with a big impact merge both forces, and we don't have such an individual yet... maybe that was why Paul Hackett made such an impact?

Posted by: Thomas Leavitt at January 13, 2006 7:59 PM

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