The life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been an important presence in my life for as long as I can remember. His achievements as a philosopher, community organizer and activist were not arrived at despite his fallibilities, but critically informed *by* them. I'm so glad for the efforts of the many who worked with Rep. Conyers over the years to bring the King holiday to the U.S. thirty years ago this January.
The vocabulary of social justice work is filled with struggle and battle. Much like the war on crime, the battle against HIV/AIDS denotes, for example, a direct enemy, and specific sites for confrontation. We "struggle against" racism, and "battle for" a living wage, thus demonstrating our commitment against corruption. But to "bend toward" desired outcomes involves a very different set of material and psychological tools than to "battle for" or "struggle against."
King observed a force within the universe that binds all of us, long before the discovery of the Higgs field or the musings of master Yoda. He observed that the work of social justice is as much a question of inner alignment & disposition as it is of material struggle. For King and many others during the civil rights movement of the 1950s & '60s, fervent religious conviction was a primary instrument of that sense of alignment with the world around them. Their struggle for radical change through non-violet revolution was rooted in a deep-seated belief in the inherent goodness of their cause.
So, thirty years into our MLK Federal holiday, what shall we call King? A jedi for justice, perhaps? What we can say with certainty is that he recognized justice to comprise more than the absence of corruption, and peace to be more than the absence of war. He understood that the fates of every person on earth are tied together.
So let's not celebrate Martin Luther King as an icon, or idea, but rather as a person who deeply understood our interconnection. He knew that we are yoked together in a lifelong bending towards justice, today and everyday. That, for me, is worth celebrating.