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San Diego Hosts Alternative King Day Event

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 at 10:47 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P.O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

Though only 30 people attended San Diego's alternative Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorative cvelebration January 21, it represented an important challenge to the way King's "official" celebrations have been co-opted by his enemies: the police, the military and the poltiical establishment.

San Diego Hosts Alte...
morones.a.jpg, image/jpeg, 600x846

Kings Words Highlight of Alternative Holiday Celebration

Answer to Military, Law Enforcement Presence at Official Parade

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zengers Newsmagazine All rights reserved

While the official parade and all-peoples breakfast commemorating the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday January 21 featured politicians, the military, immigration agents and other arms of U.S. law enforcement, the San Diego branch of the International Action Center (IAC) sponsored a small but lively alternative celebration of Kings legacy in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on Skyline Drive that featured King himself as its most powerful and significant speaker. Kings words, from a recording of the Beyond Viet Nam talk he gave at New Yorks Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 one year to the day before he was killed seemed eerily prescient as he warned of what the enormous waste of lives and resources in a pointless war was doing to the prospects for freedom and equality here in the U.S.

No one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war, King said in 1967. If Americas soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Viet Nam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

In the same speech, King noted that he had traveled to African-American communities in Americas inner cities and tried to talk younger Blacks out of rioting and using violence to pursue racial equality, but that the war had got in the way of that task. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems, he said. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked and rightly so what about Viet Nam? They asked if our own nation wasnt using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government.

The event, which drew about 30 people, also heard from another recorded speaker: Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 in what the IAC and other advocates consider a politically motivated frame-up. A journalist before his incarceration, Abu-Jamal has written a book called Live from Death Row and continues to write, record and release political commentaries. The one played at the January 21 event was taped 10 days earlier. Called Americas Martin and Martins America, it made the point that the official commemorations of Kings legacy had turned him into a harmless African-American icon and ignored the radical implications of Kings actual words and ideas.

What distinguishes the life and work of King towards his latter days, was his dedication to Black poor folks, a group that seems to be all but forgotten in the years since his passing, Abu-Jamal said. While todays America seems to be on the brink of electing a Black person [as President] (or at least possibly nominating one), the plight of the Black poor could hardly be more perilous. For them is reserved: the worst of public education the worst housing; brutal treatment by cops; ignored by political leaders (at least until election time rolls around), highest rates of joblessness; the highest incarceration rates we know this list can go on and on. King Day may be remembered, but the man behind the name is fast disappearing.

The speakers who appeared live at the event expressed similar sentiments. IAC activist Gloria Verdieu said that her group had helped organize a Martin Luther King/Cesar Chavez Coalition for Justice and Unity two years earlier when we documented the militarization of the King and Chavez Day parades. Calling for a united front of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and indigenous people, Verdieu said, Theres a time for celebration and festivities, but this Martin Luther King Day is a time for resistance to unite against racism and imperialism, and for immigrants.

Verdieu then introduced Border Angels founder Enrique Morones, who opened with a line hes used in many of his speeches Were all the same race: the human race and then talked about his ongoing campaign for immigrants rights. We all need to treat our neighbors as brothers and sisters, he said. Theres persecution every day, and we need to stand up for the people who cannot stand up for themselves. Between 4,500 and 10,000 people have died attempting to cross the border since Operation Gatekeeper started in 1994. There are 260 million people worldwide without documents. The United States has only 12 million of them.

Morones said that Operation Gatekeeper, the border fence and all the other anti-immigrant measures being put into effect to prevent immigration from Mexico to the U.S. are violations of U.S. treaty obligations. He claimed that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, under which Mexico gave up almost half of its territory to the U.S. (including what is now California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico), guaranteed people on both sides of the border a permanent right to go back and forth between the two countries. He announced that on February 2, the anniversary of the signing of this treaty, he is launching his third annual March for Migrants, a caravan of cars from San Ysidro to Brownsville, Texas. To me, Martin Luther King was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things, Morones said. All of us can do extraordinary things.

We all have dreams, said Ray Burrell of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), riffing off the title of Kings most famous speech. It doesnt matter what color you are. People come here to seek the things they didnt have back home. Burrell called upon the people at the event to participate with local community leaders and activists, register new voters, make sure they know the differences between Democrats and Republicans, independents, Peace and Freedom Party members and whatever, and we must educate.

A young man named Carlos identified himself as part of a San Diego organization affiliated with the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Im just here in solidarity, he said. Were organizing with the people in Mexico. We hope to be part of the coalition.

The first speaker after Kings recording was played was a young man named Jefferson, who introduced himself as a Los Angeles representative of two organizations with ties to the IAC, the Workers World Party and the Troops Out Now Coalition. King knew he would be murdered, Jefferson said, and what turned the system against him was his opposition to the war in Viet Nam and his own government. Its the same today. He called the IACs event the real Martin Luther King celebration, as opposed to the official one that included representatives from the FBI and ROTC.

There are many ways to oppress people, not just bombs and bullets, Jefferson said. One day before King was killed, he talked about the way slaveowners pitted slaves against one another. Thats still happening. The biggest threat working people can pose to the system is to united. We have to unite. Thats why King was killed. He knew he couldnt stop the bombing or the aggressions. We have to speak out against the oppression of Palestine and the exploitation of Africa.

Alan Woodson, an organizer with a prisoners rights organization called All of Us or None, said that when they were first brought to the U.S. as slaves, Black people were told they couldnt speak their language or practice their culture. We were given the worst of the meat and learned to like it. After talking about diabetes and other health hazards that disproportionately affect African-Americans, and mentioning that 60 percent of U.S. food is now bioengineered, he said that there were still 300 African-American political prisoners in the U.S. from the Black liberation struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Linking Americas imperialist policies to its status as the nation with a greater percentage of its people in prison than any other in the world, Woodson said that the reason for all the tough on crime legislation putting people in prison for decades for relatively minor offenses is to get around the 13th Amendment and re-enslave African-Americans. In prisons they are making high-tech and military equipment for 12 to 30 cents a day, he said. Were only 17 percent of the population in this country, but were the majority of its prisoners. (Actually more white people are held in U.S. jails and prisons than any other race, but African-Americans have a higher percentage of their population in prison than any other American racial or ethnic group.)

Tammy Harris and a man identified only as Brother Kweiku spoke on behalf of an African nationalist organization called the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement (Uhuru means freedom in Swahili). Ironically, they showed up at the King Day commemoration and displayed their literature even though a book by their groups founder, Omali Yeshitela, made clear that he disagreed strongly with Kings attempts in the 1960s to discourage young African-Americans from staging race riots and preparing for violent resistance to racism.

The only way we can change is if we get involved, said Harris. Everyone here today is here because they want to make a change. If we continue to allow the system to control what we do, we wont get anywhere. Being part of the world and making a change means being bigger than yourself. We are a grass-roots organization led by the working-class African community. We unite with any organization that understands that self-determination is the highest experience of democracy. If you believe you have the ability to improve your situation, we unite with you. Weve got to stop whats happening in our communities.

Amad Shauf, identified as a minister with the Nation of Islam, also said that unity, regardless of where we come from, was one of the two most important qualifications for bringing about social change. The other important thing is to have your own self-identity. Thats equality. We should have discipline and have the freedom to represent ourselves. Equality is being able to be free to be you, and being able to respect your brither and sister is important. All the things I just talked about are within you.

Verdieu ended the event with a call for people to join in an effort to build a larger King Day counter-event in 2009, including a march through San Diegos historic communities of color. To help, please call her at (619) 255-4585.

To read the complete "Beyond Viet Nam" speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, go to the Black Radical Congress at http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html
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Gloria Verdieu, Jonathan and Sylvia Talafaro (Top: Enrique Morones_

by Mark Gabrish Conlan/Zenger's Newsmagazine Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 at 10:47 PM
mgconlan@earthlink.net (619) 688-1886 P.O. Box 50134, San Diego, CA 92165

Gloria Verdieu, Jona...
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