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If the People Will Lead...

If the people will lead…. Tim Kipp, 1/14/17
A commemoration speech on Martin Luther King’s Birthday


In 1966 Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “For years I labored with the idea of reforming existing institutions of society through a little change here and a little change there. But now I feel differently. You have to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values”.

By the 1960’s King’s political analysis was evolving; his conceptions of racial justice would now embrace political democracy and economic democracy. Questioning capitalism and its partner, imperialism would become part of his critical analysis along with integration and voting rights. He clearly understood the Marxist axiom: where there is economic power there is political power.

As King emerged from liberalism to embrace a radical analysis, he saw history being made by the people and not by leaders.

In commemoration of the life and meaning of Martin Luther King we, today should recognize the true forces of democracy. Ours is a People’s History of struggle and resistance.

The real American Revolution began not when Washington, Jefferson and Madison wrote of breaking the bonds or petitioning the Privy Council. It started when small farmers rose up to challenge authority as Minute Men and members of the Tea Party revolts.

It began when Crispus Attucks and others confronted British soldiers, when Tom Paine challenged imperialism and called for resistance, when the Committees of Correspondence formed a shadow government and later… when Daniel Shays rebelled.

Real democracy did not look to a white congress of the wealthy to end slavery. It wasn’t Lincoln or Stevens or Sumner who led the fight.

It was the Quaker tax resister John Woolman, it was the slave revolts of Gabriel Posser and Nat Turner, it was Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and it was the agitation of William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, and Fredrick Douglass.

Real democracy was created in union halls, not in the halls of congress. Workers won when corporations and congress were forced to recognize unions and enact fair labor standards, such as the minimum wage, shorter hours, and health benefits.

Don’t look to Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, or leaders of the AFL-CIO. Look to the women and men in the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World and the National Miners Union and millions of others who struck, battled the Pickertons and walked countless picket lines.

Look to those who faced Rockefeller’s private army at Ludlow and to those who struck for “Bread and Roses” at Lawrence and to those who sat in at Flint and Detroit.

Look to Mother Jones, who at 90 was called the “most dangerous women in America”; look to the civil disobedience of Big Bill Haywood and Joe Hill, or to Clara Lemlish, the teenager who led the wildcat uprising of 20,000 garment workers. Look to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta of the United Farmworkers who nonviolently confronted corporate agriculture and today… look to RoseAnn De Moro and her union: National Nurses United.

It wasn’t Kennedy, Johnson or Congress that accorded African Americans their rights. That fight began with Charles Hamilton Huston and his band of young Howard Law School graduates, including Thurgood Marshall, who in the 1930s took segregation to court. It began with A. Phillip Randolph’s 1941 plan to March on Washington and by George Houser and the Congress of Racial Equality’s first Freedom Rides in 1947.

It began when James Lawson and Bayard Rustin taught a young Martin Luther King about Ghandian nonviolence. It began when Rosa Parks refused to change seats, when Daisy Bates helped 7 students desegregate Little Rock High School, when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Diane Nash and John Lewis led the 1961 Sit-In that ignited nearly 100 other sit-ins across the nation.

It began when Freedom Riders braved the fire bombings by the Klan in Anniston, Alabama and when the FBI’s vicious assassination programs against the Panthers, the Young Lords and Malcolm X exposed our government’s capacity to violate the Constitution. The struggle will continue until all our citizens can live with equal protection in a just society.

Real democracy is not voting every two years for the evil of two lessors; instead, it is the creation of authentic alternative political parties. The 2016 election is the embodiment of how debilitated our democracy is. The mainstream choices were corporate and many good people voted their fears and not their hopes. Imagine a real democracy where there are viable choices.

Remember Debs, Victor Berger and Meyer London of the Socialist Party, which… in the early 20th century won over 1,000 elected offices.

Remember Alice Paul and the Women’s Party that spear-headed the modern suffrage movement, remember the Communists led by the likes Gus Hall and Angela Davis who campaigned for the rights of labor and African Americans. Today the traditions continue with the Green Party and the Vermont Progressive Party which just won the Lt.Governor’s seat and, of course…with our own Bernie Sanders.

The peace and anti imperialist movement was not led by Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarty, and George McGovern…Our leaders were the likes of Ammon Hennacy and Dorothy Day- life-long war tax resisters or Dave McReynolds and Dave Dellinger- who went to prison instead of war or A.J. Muste, who at age 74 climbed a federal fence to occupy an Atlas missile base.

Our leaders were Dagmar Wilson of Women’s Strike for Peace, and Juanita and Wally Nelson of the Peacemakers, and teachers and activists like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.

Real democracy does not wait for governments to confer rights on the people. Women did not wait for the 19th Amendment, hiring discrimination legislation, Roe v. Wade or equal pay acts. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margret Sanger did not wait.

The women who chained themselves to President Wilson’s White House gates or led hunger strikes in prison did not wait. Emma Goldman, Mabel Vernon, NOW’s Eleanor Smeal and Betty Freidan did not wait. Feminists such as Robin Morgan did not wait.

Our gay brothers and sisters at the Stonewall uprising refused to wait and now LGBTQ activists are reaping unprecedented victories as the struggle continues.

Like slaves, Native Americans know all to well the meaning and necessity of resistance to government oppression. For over 500 years native nations have been fighting terrorism… and as the political prisoner, Leonard Pelletier remains in prison the struggle for Native rights continues in the Dakotas… a struggle that is for us all.

As Martin said, “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundation of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges”

Wherever people are on strike, …fighting racial, gender and sexual injustice, …defending the environment, …challenging income inequality, …opposing imperialism and violence, …and helping to create alternative visions for our future… that’s where democracy is found! From Martin’s example:

If the people will lead…eventually the leaders will follow!

Tim Kipp, 1/14/17


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