Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Mr. Obama, you are not Dr. King

As America marks another Martin Luther King Day, we can see
the power of Dr. King?s legacy in the Democratic Party primaries. Sen. Barack
Obama has adopted the rhetoric of King and the Civil Rights Movement, implying
his campaign is the legacy of that struggle. Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Clinton
infuriated the black electorate when she implied Dr. King was less important
next to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Ms. Clinton?s willingness to say anything
to undercut Mr. Obama came back to bite her. However, Mr. Obama?s adoption of
the King legacy has gone unquestioned by voters, despite the fact that Dr.
King?s and Mr. Obama?s visions of ?change? bear no resemblance.

Although Dr. King gave his life to fighting the injustice of
racial inequality, Mr. Obama tries to whitewash contemporary racism. You get
the idea of Mr. Obama?s view of race from his famous line, ?There is not a
black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America ?
there?s the United States of America.? Anyone who does not believe there?s a
white America should take a look around this campus. The same goes for black
America and the south side of Mr. Obama?s own Chicago.

Mr. Obama?s unwillingness to acknowledge racism reached
disturbing extremes when he said of Hurricane Katrina, ?The ineptitude was
colorblind,? ignoring the blacks who overwhelmingly suffered from FEMA?s
incompetence. Mr. Obama?s colorblindness delighted conservative talk-show host
Bill Bennett, who said, ?He never brings race into it. He never plays the race
card. ? He has taught the black community you don’t have to act like Jesse
Jackson; you don’t have to act like Al Sharpton.?


Dr. King never indulged in Mr. Obama?s complacency, even
after winning many victories. In 1967, he gave a speech on the future of the
Civil Rights Movement, calling for further agitation, saying ?Let us be
dissatisfied until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the
metropolis of daily security. Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into
the junk heaps of history and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home
? Let us be dissatisfied.?

That same year, Dr. King openly declared his opposition to
the Vietnam War. His statement was an unequivocal condemnation of ?the greatest
purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.? Dr. King warned
that if Americans did not act immediately to stop the war in Vietnam, it would
act as a bridge to wars in Cambodia and Thailand.

Today, Mr. Obama is not warning us about Iraq being used as
a bridge for more wars. He is leading the charge himself. Mr. Obama trumpets
his willingness to bomb Pakistan and expand George W. Bush?s ?War on Terror? to
more countries. Although Obama touts his initial opposition to the war, he is
silent on his subsequent U.S. Senate votes to fund it. Dr. King said, ?As we
counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify our nation?s
role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious
objection.? Can anyone imagine Mr. Obama telling soldiers to refuse to fight in

My point is not simply that Mr. Obama and Dr. King have
different politics. The more important distinction is between their methods of
bringing about ?change.? How does Mr. Obama propose to bring about the ?change
we can believe in? (whatever it may be)? His record gives no indication, as for
the past year he and his Democratic colleagues in Congress have failed to stand
up to a lame-duck president on any matter of importance, despite the American
people handing the Democrats a majority and a mandate to end the war.

When Dr. King explained his strategy, he said ?Freedom is
never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the
oppressed.? Few things prove the relevance of these words today than the Jena
Six, the six black high school students jailed for a fight retaliating against
white students who hung nooses at their school. When word spread around the
country that an all-white jury was sentencing six black boys to decades in
prison for a schoolyard fight, there were national protests. At University of
Wisconsin, the Black Student Union called a rally and hundreds of students
marched in solidarity with the Jena Six. The protests have successfully reduced
the Six?s charges and proven that the strategy of grassroots organization is
not a relic of the past.

When Dr. King spoke, he paraphrased Fredrick Douglass, who
said, ?If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to
favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without
plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening.?

Mr. Obama is that man who favors freedom but depreciates
agitation. Let us take Dr. King?s advice and organize at the grassroots to
demand the things we want: an end to the war, single-payer health care, racial

Let us examine the empty rhetoric of ?change,? and let us be

Paul Pryce
([email protected]) is a member of the
International Socialist Organization.

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