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Civil Disobedience: Dr. King, America Needs You Now

At this moment, I vividly recall gathered at Brown’s Church, days before the Great March at Selma, Dr. King officiating at a memorial service for the Rev. Jim Reeb, murdered the night before on the streets of Selma. We stood, clasped arms, swayed back and forth in alternate rows, singing, “Selma needs you Lord, kumbaya, Selma needs you Lord, kumaya.” This is now just such a time. America needs you Lord, kumbaya. But where are the leaders to urge us on, to declare the State a militarized tyranny, to say, in simple, straightforward terms, NO, to the growing police state within, its direct complement and counterpart without, an hubristic loner in the world community unwilling to settle for anything less than global domination in all its aspects, military, political, ideological, etc.?

To be in the eye of the storm (my reference, not to Matthew) is to miss what is swirling about, perhaps rotating faster than the eye can see, the mind can grasp. But America, whether under liberalism or conservatism (both having to all intents merged as a unified expression of incipient fascism), has trespassed the bounds of international law, human decency, and, specifically at home, a moral social order which condemns militarism, violence, and not least, the growing inequality rooted in the functions, operations, and spirit of capitalism as practiced in America.

Dr. King, already implicit in the March on Washington (I recall the placards about Jobs and Freedom carried by UAW members—where are they, and labor in general, now?), had the vision of the Poor People’s Campaign, which made ruling-group behavior and gross disparities in wealth and income moral issues. That is as it should be, just as today, all things hegemonic (and there are many, compressed into the symbol of armed drones for targeted assassination—the logical next step after the Nazi V-2 campaign over London), are, foremost, moral issues which by rights should condemn America in the eyes of humankind. The current presidential campaign tells us as much, rotten-to-the-core candidates unable to differentiate between construction and destruction, the latter a sign of national virility and leverage for forcing the respect of others.

Normality is anything but normal; it is the warped perspective of conquest. If one-half of the government’s discretionary income is devoted to the military, what does this tell us about peaceful intent, democracy, respect for human rights, a system of laws designed to protect the weak from abuse? These are all repudiated in practice day-to-day with capitalism’s mergence with the State into an integrated power system skewed in favor of wealth, influence, and, for justification, an exaggerated, brittle, class-defined ultra-patriotism. The football stadium is built on top of the nuclear stockpile, eliciting hosannas for aggression, crushing the Enemy, implied by both. (The politicization of sport is one way of inducing support for the Big Kill, and a life of conformity cheering the verities on cue.)

Can civil disobedience stand up to a social system and the generation of suitable, appropriate, consistent leadership predicated on force? Courage is in short supply in 21st century America. And courage divorced from solidarity is even more at a disadvantage. Everything about the country points to fragmentation (e.g., the selfie-craze in photos, a self-enclosing personalism which teaches self-importance over community to a society fearful of collective identities and institutions that might question unlimited wealth accumulation and invidious status rankings), so that individualism becomes a reversion to social Darwinism’s affirmation of dog-eat-dog ethics. Dr. King preached love. Ethnocentrism, xenophobia, torture, brutality, these are the enemies of love, yet rife, indeed, glorified, in our midst. The moral contamination is spreading, almost reaching surge-proportions, closing off the political system, as presently found, to any truthful, trustworthy expression of democratic government. Clinton / Trump, choose your poison. Too, the economic system is closing off, the capacious umbrella of privatization enforcing the growth of massive wealth, including the reshaping of capitalism in America from a mixed industrial-financial system to one narrowly geared to financialization and the distortions thereby produced. (Little else is produced, production as such no longer the system’s reason for being.)

It is no coincidence that Dr. King has no present-day replacement, just as it is no coincidence that he was assassinated in the first place, given the alignment of historical forces edging the nation toward a stage of social-economic regimentation which finds even professions of equality and justice suspect, if not intolerable—particularly in foreign policy, where anything goes thought to be to America’s benefit. Rest in peace, Dr. King. Your soul should not have to be burdened with aircraft carrier battle groups pressing on China, NATO forces similarly in battle formation on the Russian borders, negotiated joint military alliances worldwide, the list near-infinitely extensible under whichever party and president in power. We who cherish your memory and what you stand for (past-tense “stood” too limiting) are still groping in the dark for want of purchase on a steep vertical cliff face with those at the top (literally) heaving boulders over the side to knock us down. American democracy is in Sisyphus-mode.

Yet, why despair? Why let the bast—- get the better of us, reduce us to their level of hate, criminality, sordidness? Trump / Clinton are lightweights, compared with the noxious liberalism of Obama, a liberalism indistinguishable from the Cold War it has fostered for 2/3 of a century, most of that time impugning the integrity, and demeaning the condition, of working people, while turning somersaults for the pleasure of the wealthy. Verily, we have a class-state that Dr. King all-too-well recognized, but whose life was cut short before he was able to mount an opposition to it. Can this generation carry on his work … before it is too late?

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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