Time Magazine declared Dr. King its “Person of the Year” in 1963. In 2011, Time again honored Dr. King’s memory by declaring “The Protestor” as its pick for last year. And so it was, from the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and ongoing struggles in Syria, to our own shores with the modern “Tea Party” and “Occupy Wall Street” movements.
Since the days of the original Boston Tea Party, protest has repeatedly ignited the passion of the American spirit’s quest for freedom and liberty. It is a tradition of which we are rightly proud. It is a tradition generations of Americans have continued to honor at some of the great turning points in our Nation’s history and on to this very day.
Whether or not you side with the modern “Tea Party” movement, or if the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is more your cup of tea, all Americans should respect the right of each other to peaceably assemble.
But what some seem to have forgotten – what some Americans have lost sight of – is the goal of protest in the first place: to make better our world. In this vein, the past is truly prologue. And with history as our guide, we must indeed aim high!
Take, for example, the protest of Moses, which ultimately delivered us the Ten Commandments; the uprising in King John’s realm, which led to the creation of the Magna Carta; and, the Boston Tea Party, which eventually helped lead to our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Certainly, Dr. King’s legacy helped to usher our Nation’s modern-day civil rights acts into reality.
Our history is replete with examples that after due civil protest, and subsequent elections, America has answered even more loudly, more boldly, and with longer lasting, freer government, strengthening the very founding principles of this land.
Had Dr. King lived, I have no doubt he would still be preaching this lesson of history we must remember, now more than ever. We need to share it on every college campus, in every church congregation, and at every neighborhood meeting.
Certainly, movements and reforms even change itself, require more than a single leader to carry enough weight to be successful. Long before Dr. King’s rise to leadership, grassroots organizations sprang up to answer the call for racial justice.
The record of achievement by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) over the decades serves as a model for all who look to effect change. Dr. King regularly met with the organization’s president, Roy Wilkins. Dr. King would be the first to credit the NAACP for its citizen troops, the true foot soldiers in the sometimes lonely, sometimes hazardous, but always personally rewarding long march to justice. Working with many organized grassroots efforts to achieve permanent change, Dr. King also included student groups and their leaders, like my colleague, U.S. Representative John Lewis from Georgia, who would become a prominent voice in the civil rights movement.
The NAACP’s dedication and enthusiasm are commendable. We all should salute its determination in lighting the way to keep alive “The Dream” – of which Dr. King spoke and preached and paid for with his own life. Their active citizenship in our State is an important foundation; one we need to make certain stretches across our whole Nation. That is the surest way we can use it together to build a brighter future.
Dr. King’s words still echo clearly and loudly down through the years to us. From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves to remind us that whether we find ourselves protesting an injustice from the outside, righting a wrong from inside a voting booth, or volunteering to help make better the world, each step forward brings us a step closer to making Dr. King’s Dream a reality and to promoting justice everywhere.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s 3rd District