Dr. King and the Tea Partiers

Forty-seven years ago on August 28th, Martin Luther King wrote his seminal "I Have A Dream" speech which influenced the course of the civil rights movement in this country.  What many might not know, is that on April 16, 1963, he wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" after being arrested for marching into downtown Birmingham to protest its segregation laws.  While King's "Letter" might lack the lofty and swirling oratory found in the "Dream" speech, it is a masterful work of persuasion and, therefore, compelling and uplifting in its own right.  His words echo the sentiment of many in the tea parties today.

While incarcerated, King wrote the letter as a response to a statement from members of the clergy who agreed with him but feared his actions might lead to violence, be perceived as extreme and hamper real progress for blacks in the South. 

King points out that constructive and creative nonviolent tension is often necessary for progress --  "to help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

He argues that breaking the law is morally sound if that law is unjust or enforced in an unjust manner and reminds us of history's rebels from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego defying the laws of  Nebuchadnezzar, to early Christians refusing to submit to Roman law, to the civil disobedience of the Sons of Liberty in Boston.   

It is part of the human experience, he comments "that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." 

If we stop right here, it's obvious that tea partiers share an affinity for King's civil disobedience.  We waited a long time to take on the system...as did black America.  We tried to negotiate our way to liberty by working with moderates...as did the black leadership in the South.  We've endured all manner of broken promises from our politicians -- including their failure to work of, for and by the people. And they have ignored a long list of grievances -- lower taxes, fewer regulations, less spending, freedom to live our lives with minimal governmental intrusion, and so on. 

When the government fails to make good, not only on its promises but on the principles set forth in the Constitution, then it is time for protests, boycotts and marches.

Is this not the essence of the tea parties?  The evil of slavery and segregation can never compare with the ills of excessive taxation and irresponsible government spending.  We know that.  But they are both variations of enslavement -- of ownership and control of one over the other.

Many blacks didn't want to rock the boat during this time -- after all, they were better off than their  parents. But waiting for progress by playing it safe was too costly.  Those who are complacent are almost more dangerous than those who take a stand, even if that stand is wrong -- proven to the world most recently when German citizens looked the other way.

King remarks that "We will have to repent...not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work,' time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity."

Yes, now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of injustice -- the injustice of judges who ignore the will of the people, of mayors who ignore the will of the people, of a Congress and President who ignore the will of the people.

King's letter is not only persuasive on the issue of racial injustice but resonates with regard to ANY injustice and how it enslaves. 

  • When the oppressor bars the oppressed from enjoying any of the G-d given liberties to which we were entrusted by the Constitution, then we are enslaved.
  • When the government dictates how we live our lives, then we are enslaved.
  • When an elite political class seeks to control us and enacts legislation that hurts us and to which they themselves aren't bound -- like health care -- then we are enslaved.
  • When the party in power can tell private corporations how much they can compensate their employees, then we are enslaved.
  • When the ruling class can throw elaborate parties, vote themselves a salary increase, send their kids to private school, and preserve their own private healthcare insurance, while depriving us of the same and imposing onerous taxes on the people, then we are enslaved.
Our shackles of slavery might be metaphorical but they limit our mobility nonetheless.  

Is this the America envisioned by the Framers?  On the contrary!   This is reminiscent of exactly the kind of slavery, oppression and tyranny they feared the most.  This is feudal Europe.  This is plantation politics.

It doesn't matter if the injustice is racially motivated or stems from the fact that you are being handled by the ruling party, the outcome is the same-limited control over your life, money and property; limited choice and decreased liberties.

And the ruling class always claims to know what's best for the people -- today it's smart meters, smart cars, smart energy, government run education, government run healthcare and government controlled media. They'll continue to commandeer the private sector -- running our banks, manipulating insurance companies, replacing our mortgage brokers and controlling our car companies. 

But, do not despair.  As Dr.  King said:

"The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the average American [King's words were "the American Negro"].   Something within has reminded [the average American] of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.  Consciously or unconsciously...the average American [King said "the United States Negro"] is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of justice." [He limited it to "racial justice."]

That's right.  Average Americans have been reminded of their birthright of freedom. When McCain lost to Obama, average Americans were forced to take a hard look at what it meant to be "America," to re-examine the Constitution, to understand constitutional principles.  We had already reached the limits of what we could do politically -- complacently going to the polls, assuming our politicians were doing their jobs when they were carving out little fiefdoms of privilege and wealth for themselves. 

And having reached this limit, we were suddenly jolted awake and reminded of the 60s, and Martin Luther King and civil disobedience -- of bus boycotts and marches and rallies.  And we remembered that the power to force change... lies in the hands of the people.

And so, for the first time that I am aware of, conservative Americans of all parties and colors, took to the streets in protest -- to force a return to constitutional governance.  Following King's example, we are moving with a sense of great urgency towards the promised land of...justice.

Yet, somehow, this man with whom we share so much, has exclusively become the darling of the left.  And, I don't know why, because not only was he a Republican, but...we walk in his shoes; we think his thoughts; we uphold his principles; we dream his dreams;  we share his destiny.

Here is an overview of what MLK knew in the 60s and we know today:

--Our political system is based on lofty and timeless principles that don't discriminate and are immutable.  They can only be corrupted and abused by human beings. 

--America was an experiment cobbled together by a bunch of white guys with big ideas.  And as experiments go, there are positive and negative results.  Slavery, segregation and Jim Crow were shameful lapses but only because of the people in charge.   

--Despite the evils, this doesn't alter the original roadmap.  We always have the founding documents to steer us in the right direction--towards a more perfect union.

--It is our destiny to preserve all of this for posterity-the solid foundation as well as the shaky misdeeds.  Failure to do so begets tyranny and enslavement.

While the Obama administration knocked the complacency out of many of us, too many remain in the living room screaming at the TV.  While they secretly support the tea parties, they remain spectators as opposed to participants.   It is our duty to get every right-minded individual to rise up and join in.

This is our cross to bear.  This is our destiny.

Like King and the Framers, we are locked in an ideological war and the opposition has been whittling away at our foundations for decades -- in our schools and churches, in the media and in a bureaucracy so bloated, you can hear it groaning under its own weight. 

And we have been betrayed by politicians who have morphed into an elite political class, amassing power and money for themselves and their cronies.   

And, the tea party is the conduit through which this war is being fought. 

The grassroots momentum associated with the tea parties is not, however, a revolution of radical change. We do not seek to change the national character or the principles by which this country is governed or remake our political institutions. The Pelosi-Reid-Obama triumvirate is taking care of that.

Ours is a revolution to restore America to its rightful place in history and, as King stated, to "[bring] our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."

Recalling King's words again: "Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny."

America's destiny is to be that shining city on a hill, a place where the streets are paved with gold and endless possibilities abound, a society that stands as a light unto the world even during its darkest moments.  Dr. King understood and embraced this.  Even as he sat in jail, he still recognized that America was indeed the last best hope on Earth precisely because of the immutable principles on which she was founded.

As for our destiny it is indeed tied up with America's destiny:  It is to remind those who have forgotten and inform those who never knew.  

If we learned anything from the election of Obama, it is that we can no longer show up to the polls, vote, brush our hands together and go back to life the way it was-leaving the politics to those we elect.   

We are the beneficiaries of the freedom and democracy left to us by the Founding Fathers, defended by millions who gave their lives and demanded by millions who suffered at the hands of brutal taskmasters.

Every generation must choose whether to embrace or reject this destiny.  The Founding Fathers did, so did Lincoln and Martin Luther King, and so must we.

So, today, I bring you this message: Destiny is knocking.  Are you listening? 

Destiny was knocking when Moses climbed up that mountain and took on the burden of bringing light to a corrupt and desolate world.

Destiny was knocking when a handful of white men in powdery wigs carved out a shining city on the hill and took on the burden of bringing freedom to the millions of oppressed. 

Destiny was knocking when thousands of young men sailed across a channel and took on the burden of bringing an end to the 20th century's greatest evil. 

Destiny was knocking when a black republican reverend ended up in jail for acts of civil disobedience and took on the burden of delivering an entire nation from racial injustice.

And now, destiny is knocking once again...as millions of prosperous and sated Americans are being asked to take on the burden of preserving and passing on to their children the exceptional America they inherited.

If we turn our backs on over 230 years of history, if we leave the hard work of participation to others, if we let our "rendezvous with destiny" pass us by-unfulfilled--then, "we will spend our sunset years telling our grandchildren what it was once like in America when men were free."

That is not the destiny I choose. And I ask you to join with me in that choice. If you take nothing else from this article, let it be this: "Your assurance," as Reagan urged, "that those who come after us will say...that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith." 

And in the words of MLK:  "Let us all hope that ... in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty."

Sally Zelikovsky is the Founder of Bay Area Patriots and the Coordinator of the San Francisco Tea Party
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