html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: All my respect, Dr. King.

Monday, January 15, 2007

All my respect, Dr. King.

I spent a summer setting traffic counters in dirt roads for an air quality study. We placed counters all over California. It was a lot of driving; I learned early to listen to books on tape. One day I left Sacramento before 4:00am. I had to collect a counter in the lower Sierras, cross at Kennedy Meadows, drive up the 395, plant a counter west of Mono Lake and cross back on the 80. I got home at 10:00pm, wrung out, shaking and crying.

That day, I’d chosen to listen to a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was as beautiful as you’d expect, with long excerpts from his speeches. It was fourteen hours, moving towards his assassination. I’d read pieces of his most famous speeches, of course; I knew I’d be moved by those. I hadn’t known how prescient he was. In the last years of his life he was turning his attention towards urban poverty in the north; we lost so damn much when he was killed early.

I’d never driven Kennedy Meadows, which were green and open and gorgeous in July. But much more than that, the 395 tore me open. High deserts are the landscapes that own me. With the high, stark Sierras on my left, I stopped at Manzanar, because I had never been and I wanted to see our shame. I left feeling even guiltier, because for all that I knew the Japanese suffered during their internment, I thought it might be one of the most painfully beautiful places I’d ever seen. It would be a mixed sentence to confine me to Manzanar for years. I stopped at a fish hatchery, to see the WPA stone buildings and ponds, and wonder why we don’t spend the labor to make our useful things unreasonably balanced and graceful anymore. I saw the Owens Valley, an even more personal responsibility for a water girl from LA, emptied, dusty and poisonous. I saw Mono Lake, whose heavy water does reflect the mountains and the sunset in deeper colors than other lakes. Mono Lake is proof that hope and work based in well-documented science will make bureaucracies change course. I set my counter in the last of the light, on a dirt road I couldn’t find now, near cattle grazing in the type of meadow valley that would trap the people living there. That much beauty must be addictive, but ranching is a hard, hard way to pay for it. A black bear crossed in front of my car.

Any of those things would have been the emotional event of a week, but they happened on one day, as Dr. King spoke bravely and truly for hours, until they killed him for it. I was a wreck. It took me several days to recover. I did though, got back to my usual cheerful self. One thing changed though. After that day, I was always deeply and fiercely proud that I went to a law school named King Hall. I never thought that was hokey again.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

learned early to listen to books on tape.

How long did this take you? Can you describe what went on in your brain when this happened?

I did the same when I had a job that required a lot of driving. I remember the toughest part being keeping my concentration steady. I can concentrate while reading, but I think I take advantage of being able to let my brain wander for 10-15 seconds at a time. In audio, you have to stay in the game consistently though.

I really relate to your use of the word "learned" because I know so many people who just can't listen to the stuff.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

learned early to listen to books on tape.

How long did this take you? Can you describe what went on in your brain when this happened?

I did the same when I had a job that required a lot of driving. I remember the toughest part being keeping my concentration steady. I can concentrate while reading, but I think I take advantage of being able to let my brain wander for 10-15 seconds at a time. In audio, you have to stay in the game consistently though.

I really relate to your use of the word "learned" because I know so many people who just can't listen to the stuff.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

learned early to listen to books on tape.

How long did this take you? Can you describe what went on in your brain when this happened?

I did the same when I had a job that required a lot of driving. I remember the toughest part being keeping my concentration steady. I can concentrate while reading, but I think I take advantage of being able to let my brain wander for 10-15 seconds at a time. In audio, you have to stay in the game consistently though.

I really relate to your use of the word "learned" because I know so many people who just can't listen to the stuff.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having seen pictures of the area around Manzanar... it is so very harsh to contrast the natural beauty and the ugliness of what was done.

picture

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Mike Jenkins said...

"..until they killed him for it." How's that again? Who are "they" ? Does it change anything about Dr. King's greatness if he was murdered by a lone, mentally disturbed racist rather than the great global "they" that causes all world ills?

6:00 PM  
Anonymous eb said...

This link should take you to a list of War Relocation Authority photos of Manzanar from the 1940s, including some by Dorothea Lange.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

MLK was killed by The Smoking Man as part of a conspiracy to boost GDP by forcing cities to rename streets. They made billions thanks to their connections in the street sign making industry.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought you might like this:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/gary_younge/2007/01/post_920.html

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

okay, not one of his best , but here's the man:

http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=3535792693071401035&q=malcolm+x

At the mention of "uncle toms" I couldn't but help think of Karzai and all the 'house niggers' in the middle east...

3:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

billo, I read that first link. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of arguments that go:
"A great man who was right in a number of areas said this thing in another area which parallels something I believe now if you change enough of his words around. Therefore I'm right."

Even if he's right, it's not a valid way to make an argument unless you believe in the deity of Nobel prize winners and in your right to substitute your own new words into their old sentences. (By the way, I'm not saying he's wrong about his final point.)

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my apologies about the posting frenzy at the top. I wish I could delete those suckers.
----
billo, I read that first link. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of arguments that go:
"A great man who was right in a number of areas said this thing in another area which parallels something I believe now if you change enough of his words around. Therefore I'm right."

Even if he's right, it's not a valid way to make an argument unless you believe in the deity of Nobel prize winners and in your right to substitute your own new words into their old sentences. (By the way, I'm not saying he's wrong about his final point.)

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right Bob,most journalists rarely make sustained arguments -they aim to sway opinion.

Of course, Martin Luther was a great man and of course, great men and women can make mistakes or be in error..and I agree with you: just becuase a great said something (about imperialism, say) that doesn't mean we should let down our critical faculties.

But I do think it is at least worth pointing out this aspect of his personality/views if they have been neglected for the dominant (and more important) ones of civil rights. For me, the key line is: what is the most relevant aspect of what he was saying for us, right now.

If we're going to talk about non-violence, then we have to talk about non-violence (or the lack of it) when it comes to Iraq/Vietnam etc as well. No? [That is NOT to take away from his principled stance, on the contrary, it is to ask whether they can or should apply to today's issues)

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to try very hard to make sure this only posts once.
----
If we're going to talk about non-violence, then we have to talk about non-violence (or the lack of it) when it comes to Iraq/Vietnam etc as well. No?

Sure, it's worth considering, (and I personally wish the war hadn't happened.) The blurb there didn't really talk about how to apply the principles to other aspects of life and government policy. Rather, it was quoting from the scripture.

Also, I think it is unfair to reduce his views to "non-violence" and use that as a brush to apply to all things. If a bank is being robbed, the police arrive, and the robbers start shooting at them, non-violence is not the answer. A monotonic call for non-violence reduces the movement to the same level as management fads like "decentralization" and "employee empowerment". Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions, and all advice is highly contextual. The principles need to be reapplied in every new situation. We don't accomplish that by playing word substitution until we get an outcome we like.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Megan, I didn't know you had such reverence for Dr. King. I took an unpaid holiday yesterday b/c I worked on it last year and didn't feel terribly proud of that. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, whose pontificating I listened to on KPFK when I lived in LA, wrote an interesting piece yesterday: http://alternet.org/columnists/story/46749

12:00 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

jjsingh04:
I hadn't until that day. Before then, it was probably just the usual amount of respect for a historical figure. Paying close attention to Dr. King for a day gives you a lot of respect for him quickly.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, think you're right. This type of 'journalism' aims to instigate people into a debate (read: piss them off).

Not so sure I agree with you on some of your other points Bob. The whole point of an axiom is that it *isn't * easy to change it according to political and economic circumstances. If one takes non-violence as a fundamental ethical stance then it is surely something that cannot be easily traded off against political considerations (as is the case with torture and security). I find it difficult to understand how the principle of non-violence can be "reapplied in every new situation".

Could you expand on that or give me an example of what you mean?

But yes, on the whole I agree with your sentiments and believe that violent resistance (whether in Palestine, Chechnya or Kashmir or anywhere else) *can* be legitimate..whence the Malcolm X post after the first one!

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I waited a day for the following rant, because I didn't want to harsh your MLK Day buzz:

After that day, I was always deeply and fiercely proud that I went to a law school named King Hall. I never thought that was hokey again.

"Hokey" isn't exactly my criticism of it. "Inappropriate" and "cynically manipulative" are more like it. It's not like King was a lawyer, or as far as I know even particularly liked lawyers. Yet here's this lawyer factory named after him. With a bad clay sculpture in the foyer.

And I can't help rolling my eyes at the way its PR machine bends over backward to make it seem like some humble garden of diversity and idealism, when the students there were more privileged and more alike than any place I'd ever been in my life. The fact that they pay lip service by letting in a few older former-addict/criminal-past/took-15-years-to-get-a-BA types each year just made it miserable for other misfits like myself who lacked a social buffer zone against them. Their presence had zero effect on the privileged-kid majority, aside from reducing competition for grades a bit and providing amusement.

Every time I check out the website, something on there makes me want to gag. Today it was the lengthy list of students' undergraduate schools. Clearly, the message is supposed to be, "Look at all the different places our students come from!" Of course, they fail to mention how many students are from each college. In my year, for example, there were 2 from Cal State Northridge and nearly 40 from UCLA, even though the two schools are roughly the same size. About 75 percent of my classmates were from the UCs (where they'd already met each other), and most of those from the same four or five UCs (meaning, not Riverside or Irvine).

There are probably very good reasons for the disparity, even beyond the fact that the UC law schools weight GPAs differently according to what school the applicant is from. But they shouldn't pretend it doesn't matter.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

billo,

I can respect: "Non-violence is good. War is bad. We should never engage in war. The Iraq war is a war. We shouldn't be in it."
That is the application of a principle. And in defending that principle, you are free to quote Martin Luther King or Jesus or anyone else you happen to respect.

I do not respect: "MLK opposed the Vietnam war. "Vietnam war" and "Iraq war" differ by only one word. Therefore, MLK also opposes the Iraq war; it's just that we can't hear him."
There is no principle here. There is no argument being made. It's just a quote. It sets a bad precedent if we substitute things like nouns in other people's sentences. They can sometimes be important.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob, i'm not sure if you read the whole text-the link to MLK's speech-but I think it is quite clear that he is opposed to war and violence as a matter of principle (his third reason) and not just on pragmatic ones (the first two reasons).


Of course it's dangerous to conflate different issues/conflicts-as you rightly point out-but I think that though we shouldn't "substitute nouns" we can look for common words and common attitudes. In this case, that word is "war" and the common approach is one of violence.

again, I'm not a scholar and so I don't know what his views were on war in general-perhaps Megan or anyone else here can enlighten us- but I think the questions raised by the link to the text (not younge's actual argument) are the interesting ones:

what is the role of america in perpetrating violence around the world? Is war a solution?

I think that lesson is being painfully learned now -for Americans and Iraqis-and so , given the current emphasis on a political solution, Martin Luther King is still relevant in my opinion.

But yes, i agree with you: Vietnam isn't Iraq and America isn't Rome.

10:31 AM  

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