A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted January 16th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“There is little hope for us until we become tough-minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance.” – The late American civil rights leader Martin Luther King
“They can kill the dreamer, but they can’t kill the dream,” sang American blues artist Ruthie Foster in a song she performed during a concert last year in Niagara, Ontario.
The dreamer, of course, was Martin Luther King, the charismatic civil rights leader, who was gunned down in 1968, but whose dream tens-of-millions of Americans have continued to commemorate each on Martin Luther King Day, being observed this Monday, January 16th by our neighbours in Erie and Niagara Counties, New York and in numerous other regions across the U.S.A.
They killed the dreamer, alright.
Martin Luther King, who would have turned 88 this January 15th, has been laying in a grave for almost 49 years now in Atlanta, Georgia – the same district that, for the past 40 years, has been represented in the U.S. Congress by John Lewis, a friend of King and a world-renown civil rights hero who is now being insulted in a series of tweets for saying he doesn’t regard Trump as a legitimate president-elect because, in his view, Russia’s Vladimir Putin conspired to help him win the election.
In March of 1965, on a day that has become known in American civil rights history as “Bloody Sunday,” John Lewis joined of others in a march form Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to press for the right of African-Americans to exercise a right they had won in the final days of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency to register to vote in an election.
As the marchers crossed the Alabama River on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that day, they were met by an army of state troopers, swinging clubs on horseback. Millions of Americans watched the footage of that blood-letting, bone-crushing assault on unarmed men, women and children on TV, and John Lewis bears visible scars from that episode to this day.
So John Lewis is a living witness to how much some people – simply because they looked different than Trump and most of his hordes – have had to fight and suffer for the right to fair treatment in a democracy.
And now to have this self-obsessed, carnival barker with orange hair, who tapped in to the same strains of hatred that killed the dreamer, firing out tweets that Lewis should stop making false claims about the legitimacy of his presidential win and “spend more time fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart” – which it isn’t buy the way.
This is the same Trump who spent more than five years appealing to the worst in his base of fans and supporters by insisting that Barack Obama – an Afro-American who would probably never be president if it weren’t for the struggles led by Lewis and King and others, and who honoured John Lewis with his country’s ‘Medal of Freedom’ six years ago – was not a legitimate president because he was born in Kenya.
For more than five years, Trump shamelessly played the role of ringmaster in this racist “birther” game – cheered on by people carrying signs depicting Obama as a witch doctor in the jungle or wearing a turban or even a Hitler moustache as they chanted: ‘We want our country back!” (code for get the black man out of our White House.)
By the way, across the border in Buffalo, New York, which I have always found to be, and continue to see as a city of mostly good-natured and tolerant people, there is one Carl Paladino, a wealthy Buffalo businessman and key Trump campaign organizer in New York State, who told a regional weekly paper named Artvoice at the end of last year (jokingly, he later insisted) that his wishes for 2017 included a hope that Barack Obama “catches mad-cow disease after bineg caught having relations with a Herford (and) dies before his trial,” and that his wife Michele “return(s) to being a male and (is) let losse in the ouback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
It was Paladino’s offices in downtown Buffalo that one could go during the election campaign for Trump signs and bumper stickers.
Anyone who denies that racism was a key ingredient in f the witches brew that won Trump enough electoral votes to beat a Democratic opponent who actually beat him by close to three million in the popular vote count probably also believes,, as he claims he does, that climate change is a hoax and that the Mexicans are going to pay for that wall that is never going to be built.
Has the dream been killed? Other than finally seeing an Afro-American win the White House who was then smeared with racist epitaphs, has it ever really come close to being fulfilled?
At least part of the answer may rest in words that Martin Luther King said some 50 years ago –
“The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”
Given the ugly, ill-tempered nature of the individual about to replace Obama in the White House, one wonders if there will be any more Martin Luther King days to consider these questions and to try, against all odds, to keep the spirit of the dreamer’s dream alive.
And lest some of us on the Canadian side of the border are feeling comfortably vane about all of this, let’s not forget that we had a Prime Minister Stephen Harper with his plans for a “barbaric cultural tip line,” among other things, and the neo-Conservative Party Harper has left behind now has Kelly Leitch, with her plan to screen would-be immigrants for whatever she defines as “Canadian values,” as a strong contender for the leadership of that party.
The jury is also still out on how well we are doing in Canada in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous communities.
As just one reminder of the kind of anger and hatred that poured forth during Trump campaign rallies, here is a replay you can click on, with a warning that there is some bad language, of bits and pieces of those rallies as taped by New York Times reporters last year –
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