Honoring Dr. King As He Would Have Wanted • Long Beach Post

When Robert Garcia asked me to write about local politics for the Post, I was honored but ambivalent. I gather that my quixotic congressional run impressed Robert, marked as it was by a few intense debates I didn’t lose and a seismic shift to the Green Party in Long Beach (112 new registrants! Can you say “groundswell?”). In any case, I am forever grateful. If anyone thinks I can add something to the conversation without getting us in too much trouble, God Bless ‘em. You want to give me a platform? Where do I sign up?

But the ambivalence: I have to write about city politics? Just shoot me now. Or, as I told Robert: “Let me think about it.”

I must admit up front that I don’t have much faith in today’s politicians or in the political process as a vehicle of change (am I alone in this?) and I am continually validated in my stance by the events down at our own City Hall (which, let’s remember, “you can’t fight”).

I have never seen such a group of intelligent, caring, diligent, and always well-dressed people in my life as the Long Beach City Council and its truly charming, down to Earth, first among equals, the Honorable Mayor Bob Foster. I mean this sincerely.

That is why it is so dizzyingly frustrating to see Long Beach struggle as it does, year after year, to reach its full potential. Of course, the same can be said for Los Angeles County, for California, for the United States of America, and for humanity in all its troubled glory. What we are doing – noble as our intentions might be, hard as we may work, shiny shoes and all – is not working, and the not working is getting worse.

People of Long Beach, people of the world: I love you, but we are not reaching our full potential.

You knew that, right?

That’s why writing about local politics wasn’t going to work for me. Government can do a lot, but ultimately, I’m interested in what’s behind it all – consciousness. I seek its edge, the place where the new, the visionary, and the divinely inspired show up, the place where evolution happens. Consciousness shows up everywhere, some places more than others. The edge can be hard to find, hard to see, and local politics isn’t always the best place to hunt the trail.

LBPOST is a local outfit, though, so of course, everything I write will have a local spin. But that should be easy, once I can leave behind the offices of Ocean Boulevard and the machinations of bureaucracy (not that there’s anything wrong with them) and explore one of the greatest cities in the world, an international city, extraordinarily diverse in almost every way, urbane without pretense, wealthy, connected, untapped, creative, and still becoming itself. I am sure to find the edge.

I am eternally grateful to Robert for giving me the freedom I requested. If I had to check in with the Lowenthals and my old friend Laura Richardson every few weeks, well, I’d simply fail. It’s too easy to follow the trail elsewhere – to Presidential politics, to environmental developments, to the worlds of science, cinema, literature, and psychotherapy, to everywhere human consciousness can be seen at the edge of its unfolding. All these arenas of thought and meaning are present at all times in Long Beach; they are not necessarily always present at Long Beach City Hall or in Dana Rohrabacher’s press releases.

But sometimes one is pleasantly surprised, so I’ll start by writing about what I won’t always want to write about – local politics.

For years, I have advocated that guns and military uniforms not be displayed in the Martin Luther King parade. I have compared this to strippers in a Christmas pageant, or bringing a keg to a 12-step meeting. Dr. King, revealed through his speeches, essays, personal conversations and public actions, was opposed to war – that’s all war, not just Vietnam – and to violence.

This is not some minor point, but the heart of his philosophy, around which everything else is built. King believed in “peaceful ends through peaceful means.” A follower of Gandhi and Christ, he insisted on nonviolent action. King “condemned all organizers of war, regardless of rank,” and said, bluntly, “war is obsolete.” He frequently labeled “war, materialism, and racism” the “triple evils”. Dr. King was a pacifist, a socialist, and (my favorite moniker) a radical Christian dissident. He did not believe in guns, armies, or militarism. He believed in Love.

So what are guns doing in the Martin Luther King Jr parade, up Martin Luther King Jr Avenue on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday? Why do ROTC students march in military columns spinning mock rifles – in a peace parade? Why do soldiers lead the march, and play a military tune?

I know, I know – the kids in ROTC are kept out of gangs and get money for college and they are having a good time. And the military columns of US Service personnel are showing their support for Martin Luther King by marching. And Coretta Scott King said “everyone is welcome” in the parades.

And still…

I am certain Dr. King would have bemoaned the lack of opportunity in urban centers that surely makes ROTC and a military career both more attractive options than they might otherwise be. I doubt he would share any gratitude for the United States government and its willingness to pay blue-collar wages to young soldiers. ROTC is an opportunity for young men and women? Perhaps, but Dr King opposed war, and it’s his parade.

I am so glad soldiers want to honor Dr. King; I wish they’d do so by refusing to fight. I think that’s the action called for by a real understanding of his full philosophy. But if marching in this parade is what they can offer for now, I’d ask them to do it out of uniform, out of rank, just as men, men who want peace. All equal, no guns.

No person need be excluded. But on this one day, let there be no signs and celebrations of war.

I have said this publicly for about five years. I was given an opportunity to speak to the parade planning committee in 2004; they chose not to act on the issue. Laura Richardson wasn’t much interested either; as Sixth District City Council Representative, the parade was an important project for her. But despite King’s burning streak of left-wing activism (recall why he was in Memphis that terrible April; recall his Riverside speech) the parade remained essentially apolitical – and I don’t mean nonpartisan.

It is perhaps relevant that Ms Richardson was, at the time, sitting high atop a fence on the issue of invading Iraq; allowing the parade to become an anti-war event might have broken that fence in two.

The parade is always a beautiful expression of community and the diversity that is central Long Beach. It’s also a corporate advertising opportunity (imagine Dr King endorsing marches with corporate sponsors!), and a missed chance for the city – which is overwhelmingly liberal – to take a stand for Dr King’s progressive values – particularly his desire for “nonviolence in international relations”.

Now that Ms. Richardson has moved on to the big pond, Dee Andrews has the chance to make the parade more politically meaningful, and he seems to have some passion for it. Already, a series of events leading up to the parade has attracted some interest, and the spin on the parade emphasizes peace more than in past years (meaning, it mentions it at all). I still plan to flyer the parade with Dr. King’s quotes on war; many Americans seem to think he wanted only to end segregation, and miss the fact that King advocated nonviolence not only for activists, but for governments. Dr King was at his core a peacemaker, between men and between nations. If Dee Andrews can help remind Long Beach citizens of that, he will have done a great service to our city.

Look for more on Dr. King in the coming weeks.

Next week in column number two: Column number two!

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