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Back to your regularly scheduled dissident philosophy

15 Jan

With all this stupid ex drama over, I can focus on the actual purpose of this blog, which is to get the CIA to follow me around. Not really. But I am committed to writing and thinking about stuff that cuts against the grain. I wouldn’t be a dangerous liberal intellectual if I didn’t, right?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is tomorrow. In one of those weird serendipitous moments that brings momentary order to a completely random universe, I stumbled across this essay in a book that was among the stuff my ex brought back to me. I’ve decided to reproduce it here, since it’s timely and also relevant to issues that are still making headlines. Well, the mainstream media has all but forgotten about the Occupy movement, but the problems that it addressed are never going to go away. This essay is from 1995.


“The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV,” by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, from You Are Being Lied To; Russ Kick, editor. Link:

It’s become a TV ritual. Every year in mid-January, around the time of Martin Luther King’s birthday, we get perfunctory network news reports about “the slain civil rights leader.” The remarkable thing about this annual review of King’s life is that several years – his last years – are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963), reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963), marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965), and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever. Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV.


It’s because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for during his final years.

In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.

But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.

“True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 — a year to the day before he was murdered — King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”

You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 — and loudly denounced it. Life magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.”

King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” — appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”

How familiar that sounds today, more than a quarter-century after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

As 1995 gets underway, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. And so do most mass media. Perhaps it’s no surprise that they tell us little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life.


About my “night” job…

7 Dec

As you may know, being a graduate assistant places you in an unusual position within the framework of academia. You’re a student, but also a colleague. You work 80 hours a week on various duties, but you only get paid for 20 of those hours, which means you are more or less paid below minimum wage. I haven’t done the math, but let’s just say my stipend is barely enough to keep the lights on.

So, I have a second job. I’m an usher at my university’s sporting events. This is actually a pretty cool gig, because people here are NUTS for basketball. The traditions are ridiculous. People pack the 17,000 seat arena to watch their team beat up on some division 2 school that desperately needs the paycheck to take a flogging. When we play our huge rival, look out. Drunk rednecks make my job difficult. There’s singing, chanting, and generally a great atmosphere. And no, I don’t go to Duke.

It seems that this company will hire just about anyone with a pulse to be an usher. There is definitely a wide range of intellects and social functioning among the employees. For example, at the end of a shift, everyone queues up to sign their name to a sheet of paper indicating the beginning and end times of their shift. This, as you might expect, is not the best system to use when there are literally 200 people trying to go home at the same time. However, the process is complicated by the fact that many of the employees do not know how to spell their own names.

So, if you display any intelligence or social skills in the course of doing your job, you get assigned to duties that are a bit more plum than showing people the way to Section 6.

I have been fortunate enough to excel at this job, to the point that I am often asked to be door “security” for high-profile, high-traffic areas. And by that I mean “where all the donors hang out.” An essay on athletics boosting is meant for another time, but you’d be shocked at what money can buy you in the world of college sports.

It’s an interesting social experiment for me. Recently I was posted to work at the entrance to the donor-only area. A donation of $10,000 or more gets you access to all the free food and booze you want to ingest before sloshing to your seats in the arena. As serious as people are about basketball around here, boosters will drop that kind of money without batting an eye.

So what do I do at the entrance? I make eye contact, greet the donors, and hold the door open for them. That’s it. I made a few mental notes last night.

I was about 50/50 on eye contact – about half of the people I tried to engage actually looked at me. At least half paid no attention to the fact that there was a human being physically holding a door open for them. I guess they thought it had automatically swung open when it sensed that their pockets were lined with eagle feathers and hundred-dollar-bills. Of this half, none could even be bothered to look at the peon working the door, let alone thank me for holding the door for them. But of course, some people were extremely gracious and took the time to thank me for being so attentive and helpful. That makes it all good.

This is not an indictment of the wealthy, as I’m sure you’d get the same proportion of people thanking or ignoring the door-holder on the way into Walgreen’s. Some people are polite and gracious, many are not.

However, I did feel a little bit like a bellhop. And I did get some looks of contempt. It was interesting. I tried not to profile, but damn, the offenders were always middle-aged, heavily-bleached, orange-tanned, trendy-clothes-that-a-woman-over-19-has-no-business-wearing clad white women. EVERY. TIME. And their male counterparts gave me the same treatment, so I suspect whatever mentality drives these women to dress and act this way also attracts their men, like some sort of bottle-blonde mating display.

I’m definitely not complaining about my job by any means! I actually really enjoy it. I get to smile and be friendly and  I get paid for it. And since I won’t do anything unless I do it REALLY WELL, I am good at my job.

It’s just amusing how often people will rage that there’s no customer service anymore, that people are no longer polite, things were so much better when whitey ran the show, blah blah blah, that they don’t notice genuine, sincere service when they see it. Your $10,000 donation doesn’t make you better than the waitresses bringing you cheap wine: it makes you wealthier, perhaps, but certainly not better. Be nice to the people who serve you. Because for every nice person, there are about a half dozen assholes.