Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week we are following the launch of “Beyond the Moment: Uniting Movements from April 4 to May Day.

 April 4, 2017 marks both the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “Beyond Vietnam” speech and his assassination one year later. Beyond the Moment is a campaign organized by a coalition of more than 50 grassroots organizations called “The Majority,” which includes Fight for $15, NAACP, Mijente, Black Youth Project, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and many others. BTM honors the 50th anniversary of King historic speech by bringing diverse movements together in an intersectional struggle for economic, racial, and transnational justice—all leading up to mass mobilizations less than a month later on “May Day” or International Workers Day, May 1.

When Martin Luther King Came Out Against Vietnam, New York Times, April 4, 2017

“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s landmark speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” in which he first spoke publicly against the war in Vietnam. In this article, David J. Garrow provides an in-depth look at the circumstances surrounding the speech, including the Times’ own condemnation.

While King’s conscience had been tormented for years by the U.S. actions in Southeast Asia, he was under great pressure to remain silent. Some civil rights activists worried that the speech would alienate the Johnson administration (which it did). Even liberal allies and publications that had been sympathetic to civil rights blanched at Dr. King’s powerful denunciation of imperialism and militarism.

King knew that his speech would invite controversy, but he delivered it anyway, recognizing that his role in speaking truth to power, even – or perhaps especially – when that truth is difficult to hear. As King is quoted in this article, “[By speaking out,] I was politically unwise but morally wise.”

Fifty years later, when the U.S. is currently trying to ban refugees from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, and other countries where its own policies have fueled conflicts and led to civilian casualties that drive forced displacement, Dr. King’s decision to “break silence” – like his message that injustice at home is inseparable from injustice abroad – could scarcely be more relevant.

MLK’s Revolutionary Speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” Turned 50. Here’s How It’s Relevant to Our Current Crazy, Colorlines, April 4, 2017

One of the criticisms leveled against King following the speech was that, supposedly, a civil rights leader had no business commenting on international events. What did the struggle for Black equality in the United States have to do with the war in Vietnam? From the pulpit of the Riverside Church in Manhattan, however, Dr. King affirmed – in words of heartbreaking poignancy – that the freedom struggle in the United States, in fact, had everything to do with the struggle against war, exploitation, and imperialism overseas. King warned against the deadly union of the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism,” and declared that the only solution was a “genuine revolution of values” that would oppose all three. His belief in the interdependence of all justice struggles foreshadows the concept of intersectionality.

“King knew that the war and the Civil Rights Movement were part of a common struggle against imperialism, colonization, and capitalism.”

The radicalism of this message has often been obscured by anodyne popular depictions of King as a peacemaker and bridge-builder. Here, Colorlines’ Editorial Director Akiba Solomon interviews Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a visiting scholar at the Martin Luther King Papers at Stanford University and a key figure in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Rev. Sekou aims to recover the image of King as someone who was also fiercely committed to struggles for economic justice, transnational freedom, and racial liberation. As he says in this interview, “there are three pillars of the radical gospel of Martin Luther King Jr. that we should not allow holiday remembrances to Whitewash: democratic socialism, transnational anti-imperialism, and Black prophetic Christianity.”

Meet the New Social Change Coalition: ‘The Majority’, The Nation, March 31, 2017

In this article, Collier Meyerson provides an introduction to and overview of Beyond the Moment, an exciting new, intersectional campaign launched by a broad coalition of grassroots organizations to respond to a “minority whose values are rooted in white supremacy, division, and hatred.”

The organizations making up The Majority, the coalition behind Beyond the Moment run the gamut of progressive movements from the fight for fair wages to the struggle to protect indigenous land to resisting deportation and the criminalization of communities of color. “It’s also part of a long-term strategy to build a world where people can live in dignity and where we can situate people at the margins to have power,” said Patrisse Cullors, one of the three founders of BLM. Just as Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community carried him from the civil rights struggle in the Jim Crow South and the Poor People’s Campaign, to solidarity actions with the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis, The Majority emphasizes that all struggles for justice are interlinked.

The “Beyond the Moment” approach is an intentional change from more siloed, “issue-oriented” advocacy campaigns of the past. It is grounded in the belief that our diverse movements for justice and equality will either stand or fall together, and that protection or sanctuary for one community means little until all of us can live with dignity and freedom. As Mijente organizer Marisa Franco states, “We can’t say, ‘hey don’t let ICE on your campus’ and not call out over-policing of people of color on college campuses. We can’t celebrate local police who might consider not working with ICE but who over-police and won’t make those same proclamations for other communities of color.”

Other articles highlighting “Beyond the Moment” we recommend: