Monday, January 16, 2006

Ain't Coming Back

Throughout the past two days I have seen a lot of comments about how much we need Martin Luther King Jr. today. While I devoted four separate entries yesterday to this man (who is one of my heroes), I believe it borders on dangerous to wax eloquently about a leader who died nearly 40 years ago. It shifts our focus to the past when we need to be sharply focused on the present and future.

There's no question that MLK would serve today as the same kind of beacon for hope and dedication as he did in the 50s and 60s. But folks, he's dead. He ain't coming back. Rather than rehash our grief at his assassination in 1968, we need to develop NEW leaders who will embody his spirit and more.

That said, there is one trait in our new leaders that should emulate the path taken by Dr. King. These new leaders must be chosen by the people, not chosen by themselves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't set out to be the voice of the civil rights movement. He was often a reluctant leader. He would have been more than a happy to let the spotlight's glare fall on others. But the people chose him to be their standardbearer and he served because of them.

Today, we have a lot of people who go at this from the opposite direction. They tell us that they are leaders and then they go around trying to drum a devoted flock. They are consumed with fame and recognition and being a "player". We don't need that kind of leadership.

As I believe Dr. King exemplified, the best leaders are those who would rather not lead. Their emphasis is on the movement, not themselves. Because they are NOT so self-centered, they are more apt to listen to the counsel of others and to bring people together in solidarity to accomplish goals, not get "their" name in the paper.

As great as he was, Martin Luther King Jr. is dead. Dead men AND women don't lead movements. Live ones do.


  1. Trey, with respect, while I agree with you in principle, I don't think it serves your message to sound like you are reprimanding your fellow progressives.

    A quote from, of all people, Pete Townshend:

    Message to the political, ecological and journalist doomsayers: if you make me feel ashamed, I start to slowly but surely kill myself. So give it up. Tell me I can help. Tell me I can change things. Tell me my vote matters. Tell me the people I put in power can be influenced and steered.

    Don't tell me there is no hope. Don't tell me only you know what is wrong and that you can only fix it if I do what you suggest. Meet the new boss……etc.

    Just acknowledge that I am doing my best, as are we all. And if that is not good enough to save the planet, then maybe we need more adept doomsayers.

    I know you aren't a "doomsayer", but there's something in there about going easy on your allies. We need unity on the Left more than ever, and this will require compassion and pluralisim.

  2. Howard,
    Your point is well taken. I guess I was a tad bit exasperated by the number of times I saw phrases like "We need Dr. King back today" on a lot of blogs, both in entries and comments. I do so agree that MLK would be a great help, but we need to move on and forward.

  3. When the people are ready for real leaders, they will appear. Listen to what Edwards has had to say, and wonder why it isn't resonating. Listen to Barack Obama talk. The leaders are there, we are just not ready for them yet. Most Americans are still too fat and happy to hear what needs to be heard.

  4. And remember that few people walk our path and have our perspective on things to see where change is needed. ;^)

  5. Very good points, Trey and Donna.

    BTW, the irony did not escape me, only dawning on me after I posted my comments, that I was reprimanding you for reprimanding others. LOL!

    I sometimes come to the same conclusion, Donna, that the country is just not ready to hear leaders like Edwards and Obama, but during the last presidential election, when my favorite candidate, Dennis Kucinich, was getting no attention in the media because he didn't "look" presidential, I was thinking it had more to do with how difficult it is to reach people because of the electoral system, and that people would hear and be inspired, but the system blocks the way.

    Let's face it, if you don't "look presidential" the mainstream media will ignore, and if you aren't handpicked by the Democratic Party establishment, it is almost impossible to get the message out.

  6. You both make very astute points. As a long time Green & Socialist Party leader and advocate, I tend to frame too many movement related issues in terms of overt political leadership. Politics/government is INDEED a very important perspective to consider, but we run the risk of casting non-political parts of the movement aside.

    Neither Martin Luther King Jr. nor Malcolm X ever held an elective office. Neither of them even tried to run for office, though Martin was considering it about the time he died. I think the kind of leader we need now would fit this same kind of mold. I think we need someone who understands the political aspects of the social justice movement, but is not a player or candidate within that system itself.


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