This MLK Day, Save the Fake Love

I love MLK Day but hate when politicians parrot Dr. King’s prose while doing their damnest to keep his dream unrealized. His family knows and deals with this best.

Over the holiday break, I rewatched the ’60 Minutes’ interview with Coretta Scott King from Christmas Eve 1968. Mrs. King opened her home to Mike Wallace and the world only eight months after her husband’s assassination. She inspired millions, using her grief to grow the movement by letting people mourn with her.

Fast-forward 54 years to this past MLK Day. I’m at the Deliver for Voting Rights March in Washington, DC. I had the honor of sharing a stage with MLK III, his wife, Arndrea Waters King, and their powerful daughter Yolanda Renee — Dr. King’s lone grandchild, who called out Senators Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema for promoting her grandfather on social media while using the Senate filibuster to block Congress from passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“Do not celebrate. Legislate!” Yolanda demanded.

Determined yet wise beyond her years, she stood prepared for their votes against the new VRA, citing Dr. King’s work as a “blueprint” for long-term campaigns, naming his “faith and hope” as her inspiration to “keep going.” Despite all the challenges faced along the way, the King family has always shown up to keep Dr. King’s struggle for civil, economic, labor, and human rights alive.

Later that day, I replayed Yolanda’s words while driving the five hours back home to Akron, Ohio. I thought about my 11-year-old son, wondering what kind of life he and my future grandchildren would have. Will they have to wake up in a country still forcing them to demand the citizenship rights Dr. King dreamed about? Has the experiment failed? Did racial capitalism win?

For decades, conservatives and private interests conspired to claim control of US courts and reverse the Voting Rights Act and Roe v Wade. They even dare to play around with Dr. King’s quotes to attack everything from affirmative action to the 14th and 15th Amendments — claiming his words while undoing his work. They pay lip service to racial equality while consistently protecting the interests of corporations and the wealthy, allowing the racial wealth gap to widen as Black Americans suffer.

We’re not having that. So here’s my message to elected officials chasing clout on MLK Day: Unless your voting record matches Dr. King’s anti-racist ideals, save the fake love.

Sharing Dr. King’s quotes and taking selfies in front of his monument — none of that matters without applying purposeful action to fulfill the promise he pursued. We need your votes and voices, and we won’t tolerate anything less.

For everyone aspiring to celebrate Dr. King earnestly, I beg you to recognize the power you possess to improve the world around you. From Mrs. King to her granddaughter Yolanda, the King family has carried on selflessly despite losing so much. They need our help.

Voting on Election Day is excellent — but John Lewis became a Civil Rights icon on a bridge in Selma, not the halls of Congress. Folks like Ella Baker, Medgar Evers, and Fannie Lou Hamer elected themselves. So did the Freedom Riders and all of today’s activists. So can you.

Living out King’s legacy must be tied to securing the economic futures of Black Americans, today, tomorrow, and beyond. White Americans hold 84 percent of total U.S. wealth but make up only 60 percent of the population—while Black Americans hold 4 percent of the wealth and make up 13 percent of the population. This leaves Black families far more economically insecure and with fewer opportunities for economic mobility. We all deserve to live in a country where our skin color doesn’t determine our lot in life, our ability to pay our bills, and provide for our families and futures.

Ask yourself, “What else can I do to help achieve Dr. King’s dream?” Our answers will differ, but we must accept this challenge together. Join a local organization. Learn the whys behind the issues you see and want to change, and understand the intersecting relationship between economic inequality and racial injustice. Get trained in the tactics of movement building. Help fix this country. Help save our democracy.

We’re our only hope — but that’s enough to keep going and win. Everything is possible when we believe in ourselves and each other. MLK had faith in us. Do you?

DaMareo Cooper is the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. You can follow him on Twitter at @DaMareo_Cooper.