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What To The Radical Is Martin Luther King Day?

January 17, 2011

Alan’s got a lovely piece up at Clear View Blog (digging his jaunty-angled question: what would MLK, Malcolm X, and Paul Robeson think about being put on U.S. postage stamps?) that points to the connections between big-L Love and the effort to, in King’s words, “defeat evil systems.”

Compassion and militancy.  Neither can substitute for the other.  If you’ve got militancy but don’t practice compassion, your friends and comrades — the people upon whom you most rely, politically and personally — prob’ly won’t enjoy being around you.  Not in the long term, anyway.  And if you’ve got compassion but no critical analysis of “evil systems,” or meaningful program to defeat them, you are, as Ryan points out, utopian.

Combine the two, compassion and militancy, and you’ll get something powerful.  But you’ll also get problems.

Frederick Douglas famously asked, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”  We might do well to extend the same skepticism to today’s hallowed, lovey-dovey vacation day.

Beneath the hype, MLK day can serve as a reminder that people who advance the fight for radical liberation, using their own compassion and militancy, are undoubtedly risking their lives.

So if you’re among them, thank you for your courage.  May the earth continue to bless you with beauty every day. May you sometimes have a sweet picnic by the lake.

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