Dr. Cornel West spoke recently to a packed ballroom at Bowling Green State University.
The noted author, scholar, lecturer, and former surrogate for both the Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein presidential campaigns, held the audience’s undivided attention for two and a half hours. His insights on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., challenged previously-held misconceptions of King as “tame, domesticated.” Instead, West enjoined, “Don’t view him [King] as a static icon in a museum–he’s a wave in an ocean.”
It is often forgotten that in spite of King being seen by most Americans as a proponent of non-violent protest and an ordained Baptist minister, he was labeled by the FBI as one of the most dangerous men in America. Why? Dr. West thinks it’s because King was a “love warrior” and never forgot his true mission in life was to break through our materialistic society’s indifference to evil.
King never stopped seeking justice for those who were oppressed and to expose evil for what it was. “Justice is what love looks like in public,” Dr. West said, noting, “What kind of human will we choose to be?”
By resisting “deodorized discourse,” King made people feel “unnerved, unsettled, uncomfortable.” Today, King is seen as a threat to our commercialized society, which wants to feel good at all costs and never uncomfortable. Dr. West, in MLK’s tradition, challenged us to see through the “American lie” that somehow people are “self-made.”
“Did you give birth to yourself?” Dr. West joked, but turning serious he remarked how we are all molded and shaped by bigger things about us–our family, society, culture.
The U.S. government saw danger in King’s message of how militarism, commercialism, and racism were sucking the energy out of our democracy. King saw the connection between militarism and poverty and he spoke out against the travesty of the Vietnam War. He sought “justice for righteousness.”
Dr. West states that our task today is to remain tender in the midst of our market-driven culture by practicing “spiritual warfare.” We can’t live through the lives of the rich and famous. We need to seek justice–not revenge. Our motto should be: “I don’t have a minute to hate–I will seek justice.”
West urged us to stay on the “love train” or “justice train.” Power without compassion crushes the weak, but Martin Luther King, Jr., whispers, “Interrupt the cycle of hatred, oppression, and exploitation.”
King’s dream was not the American dream, but was rooted in it. It is a dream from one who has dealt with the debilitating effects of Jim Crow for decades. The “pretty words” on our sacred documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were written by slave owners and those who condoned slavery. Dr. West says we must “critique the worst to bring out the best.” King spoke frankly. “We must come to terms with poverty,” is what the civil rights leader was saying, according to Dr. West.
Martin Luther King, Jr., declared no democracy can survive with escalating poverty, militarism, racism, and xenophobia. Dr. West sees that the challenge we face today is how to instill empathy. We’ve had a “rude awakening” under Trump, but perhaps it will awaken empathy for our brothers and sisters, West hopes, “shattering the sleepwalking, hardened hearts” who scapegoat the poor, Muslims, Jews, Palestinians, Latinos, Native Americans, and others.
“When you love folks, you wanna do something,” says Dr. West.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “was a blues man with a Christian twist.” Dr. West states that we can learn from blues people and prevent ourselves from falling into the pit. The question is, “Do we have what it takes, America?”
Bio: Cindy A. Matthews is a freelance writer, novelist and editor of Our Revolution Continues blog: http://bernie2016.blogspot.com.