Church: My Lai, Parkland and Dr. King
The recent op-ed by the Rev. Chuck Currie ("Honor Dr. King by joining fight for social justice," March 28, 2018) lays out lots of theory, but gives short shrift to analysis, strategy, tactics and winning specific campaigns and new laws.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonprofit, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), never shied away from organizing pickets, boycotts, marches and strikes, in city after city, north and south alike, to fight poverty, the Pentagon, and institutional racism and oppression.
In light of it being the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis, it is also vital now — with the Parkland high school massacre fresh in our memory — to look at systemic violence. The My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the assassinations of both Robert and John F. Kennedy, the murders of students at Kent State and Jackson State when President Richard Nixon invaded Laos and Cambodia — are all events that speak to a historical trend which, many of us at Portland State University believe today, has culminated in the Trump-NRA juggernaut.
But what is to be done?
As a VISTA Volunteer in Macon, Ga., many years after Dr. King's murder in Memphis, I worked with SCLC against job discrimination and for better housing in Georgia's second largest city. Two thousand African-American Maconites marched and protested through that city's streets (with the support of 50 of us white allies). Marchers chanted, sang, and boycotted white-owned businesses in Macon that were refusing to hire black workers. Dr. Joseph Lowery, at march's end, gave the keynote address.
Today, pro-gun control protestors marched and walked out in 800 cities worldwide, to protest President Donald Trump and the NRA continuing to hide behind Second Amendment propaganda, while mass murders continue to occur from Columbine to Sandy Hook, and now, to Parkland, Fla.
We are happy to notice that Currie and other religious leaders are organizing the 2018 equivalent of Dr. King's 1968 "Resurrection City" in Washington, D.C., in that year's Poor People's Campaign. Civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance is, absolutely, a time-honored method of protest, from Mohandas Gandhi, to King in our country, and even to Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, circa 1980.
However, there is no substitute for economic boycotts (against NRA supporters) — and for exercising our "right" to vote, by actually voting! At Portland State, where our Portland chapter of Gray Panthers is based, "elders" and "youth" alike are excruciatingly aware that only 15 percent of young voters actually vote in midterm elections.
In Portland, in May 2018, we have the opportunity to reverse this troubling trend. After all, Trump, the Republicans and the NRA are counting on low voter turnout in order to preserve and protect the status quo.
Portland Gray Panthers, along with our affiliate, Progressive Student Union, has chosen to support four candidates for local office in the upcoming May primary: Jo Ann Hardesty for the open seat on the Portland City Council, Julia DeGraw for incumbent Nick Fish's City Council seat, Kayse Jama for incumbent Rod Monroe's Senate seat, and Maria Garcia for the open seat on Multnomah County Commission.
The importance of voting cannot be understated. Ballots and boycotts are both underutilized, we believe. While "elders" among us may recall assassinations of our leaders and massacres like My Lai and shootings of students at Kent State and Jackson State — the Valentine's Day massacre at Parkland is fresh in all our memories.
There are several Portland-area businesses that are ripe for boycotts when they act to protect landlord profits or put gun sales above the lives our children. As Parkland student organizers Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg and others can attest, a new world is coming where we can build a future in which love and justice (values trumpeted by Dr. King) conquer hatred, death and oppression — every time!
Lew Church is coordinator of Portland Gray Panthers, and founding publisher/editor of two activist papers at Portland State University, the PSU Rearguard and PSU Agitator.
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