Instead of dying on a Memphis motel balcony in 1968, let’s say that Martin Luther King Jr. lived and thrived and remains a vital force in fighting for freedom in America.
Had he continued to breathe his dream of liberty and justice for all, I have no doubt that Lackawanna County commissioners would evict him in 2012 if he dared pitch a tent on Courthouse Square in Scranton.
Had King occupied Scranton, commissioners would have cracked down on his dissent.
Petitioning government for change is not a thing of the past. Fighting income inequality, political corruption and unfairness – including bigotry in all forms – remains central to the core of our civil rights struggle.
The color barrier is not the only frontier to be tamed.
Yet, representatives of the Occupy Scranton movement must come to the political bosses with hats in hand, all but groveling like humble immigrants yearning to be free, before they will be allowed to return in any way to Courthouse Square and petition government for the redress of grievances.
King, who was fighting for fair wages when he died, would not be pleased.
Yet, majority Democrats Corey O’Brien and Jim Wansacz, hide behind the closed doors of their office suites without any hue and cry erupting from the street. These professional politicians have the power and know how to abuse it. But the people – all the people - own that power. And the people must shout from the highest mountain that we will overcome.
Minority Republican Pat O’Malley – who knows his perspective matters little if at all in this trio - also knows the benefits of bloated bourgeois opportunity. Don’t expect much from him other than more of the same. O’Malley is currently suing the county as he serves the county. Yet, he lines up with majority commissioners to fight a small band of protestors who ask for nothing other than the rights that they deserve.
Never apologize for fighting for freedom. And never forget the local legacy born long before King was born. Also, never completely trust the system.
Workers fighting for freedom once died in the street just blocks from where the Lackawanna County commissioners gaze out their spacious windows at the public land below, sneering with the same contempt exhibited by pampered royal redcoats of old.
Expect O’Brien and Wansacz to show up somewhere today to celebrate King’s birthday by bowing their heads and piously paying tribute to King and his good work. Expect them to mouth empty sentiment as they pay homage to the struggle for equality and liberty.
What they won’t tell you is how much more in common they have with the founders of this republic than with King and how their view of the pursuit of happiness is more about self-absorbed political profit and making money for themselves and their inner circle than it is about true equality.
Had King lived during the founders’ time, he could have been a slave. None of the fathers would have fought for his freedom. None would have gone to war on his behalf. Had King lived on their plantations he would have picked their cotton and tobacco.
As Occupy Scranton now lives and breathes King’s ideals on the coldest winter morning, none of the county commissioners welcome them in from the cold with an outstretched hand and a promise of climbing the mountain together.
No, that’s best left for King who is long gone and no longer a threat. Let children recite his speech about dreaming and then let’s get on with the practiced life – the political life of campaign fundraisers, not the lives of the longing and the poor who lack basic funds to buy the simplest comfort in this cruel land.
In Lackawanna County political circles, to be disenfranchised is to be forgotten.
King is long dead and no longer a threat to the status quo, no longer an obstacle to the establishment, no longer a challenge to aspiring politicians and social climbers such as O’Brien, Wansacz and O’Malley and the rest.
Repeat and remember the names of these three men. Their origins reflect the days of immigrant struggle and the stark oppression of coal mine bosses who would never let a miner’s life get in the way of a money bag. Yet they forget the lessons of the past. They taste their meager success but have not yet come close to the mountaintop. They too easily recite platitudes of freedom. And they know nothing of the complex meaning of commitment.
King died devoted to freedom.
The commissioners live running for their next political office.
So on this day as we occupy our minds with the words and deeds of a martyr, we must remind ourselves to stand fast against those political opportunists who always get in the way. The search for equality lives in those who stand firm on principle – not in those who timidly impede civil rights and call it democracy.
Nobody can evict a dream.
Nobody can stop our pledge to get to the Promised Land.