MLK 2017 in NYC
January 12, 2017
Wednesday morning, as I went about my business, I saw a march taking place through Union Square in New York City. As any New Yorker knows, there is nothing unusual about a march taking place through Union Square. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dozen more today if I sat down next to the chess hustlers and spent my day there improving my chess ability five bucks at a time.
One thing unusual about this one though was that it took place before 9am, a time when many who march through Union Square can’t get a group of their cohorts together.
More unusual though was that the marchers ranged in age from 5 years old to approximately 12. It was a grade school march, with the youngest in the well-heeled Manhattan group carrying signs reading “we shall overcome” and imploring “peace.” Police officers escorted them safely across streets.
I was unsure for a moment what exactly I was seeing. It occurred to me the date was January 11 – Martin Luther King Day was right around the corner.
Having spent time as a teacher, I had always been open to and in fact tended toward unorthodox pedagogical styles. Such styles sometimes helped to shatter the calcification of the young brain in front of me, to pierce the calloused membrana, to make learning a little easier to have happen. I appreciated that some teacher somewhere was trying very hard to do something different with her students. I applauded that quietly in my head.
Then I did what I usually do – I challenged myself. I thought critically about the praise I just offered. Was this teacher really doing something all that different?
It occurred to me how common it is for children to be taught to be “daring” in a way that isn’t really daring, but maybe passed as daring some time in the past. Having a march was daring 60 years ago or maybe even 40 years ago. It’s also not effective. It’s not even imaginative.
This reinforces very safe, very non-threatening, very status quo behaviors in a young person all-the-while committing the evil of lying to that person about how meaningful this endeavor might be.
Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award winner Meryl Streep stood before a very friendly audience of her peers on Sunday, January 8, 2017 at the 74th Golden Globe Awards and did something that was effectively preaching to the choir. From her dominant and privileged societal position she attacked the guy who many Americans chose and supported as a way to break with the status quo.
In electing him, it wasn’t a vote for a man just for being a man, it wasn’t a vote against a woman, it wasn’t a vote for hate or anything else as much as it was a vote for a change candidate. 83% of American voters according to the CBS 2016 Presidential Exit Poll saw Donald Trump as most likely to bring about change. Across the political spectrum 83% of voters agreed on that concept.
To pause for a moment on how significant that number is – it is very unusual for 83% of voters to agree on anything, and Donald Trump was under-represented in nearly all polling, so this number is almost certainly a lower number than the actual figure. Additionally, that same poll states “1 in 4 Trump voters backed him while saying he did not have the temperament to be president.” That’s how badly 1 in 4 Trump voters wanted that change candidate – they voted for someone they knew did not have the temperament to be president.
Donald Trump is a very flawed individual, like every person who I’ve ever encountered, myself included. Donald Trump has a little polish to his presentation and a lot that comes across as unpolished, vulgar, unscripted, and cavalier. That might be him being natural or he might be as planned-out as a Hollywood actor on stage. I don’t really know, and that question is not one of my primary concerns. What I do know is that a bunch of people expected change in 2008 and put hope in President Obama. A bunch of people expected change in 2010 and put hope in the so-called Tea Party candidates. A bunch of people today expect change and have put hope in Donald Trump. Some of those Trump 2016 voters were even Obama 2008 and Tea Party 2010 voters.
I have little faith that political solutions will make the world perfect. In the realm of politics, I know today, the bold move, the way to be daring, the way to do the unsafe and risky thing politically, the way perhaps to bring change, is to support the unknown and imperfect changes like opening up Cuba further, supporting Brexit, and backing Donald Trump. These are acts of change.
Marching in the streets for change in political and social policy worked at one time. The Civil Rights Movement is perhaps an example of that. It was daring for Americans in the 1950 and 1960s to congregate and march in an environment where German shepherds would be set loose on them, a great deal of other violence faced them, and serious injury and death were possibilities. Though this civil disobedience was difficult and risky, on the left and right I can easily find dissension on whether that behavior and the succeeding change actually accomplished much.
The status quo opinion is that the civil rights changes encouraged by MLK and others were generally very good and very effective. That’s an opinion I’m going to stick with for the purpose of this piece of writing. It is obvious that MLK certainly accomplished a great deal. To robotically repeat the same actions in very different situations however betrays the fundamentals of that behavior – the spirit it is done with, the passion, the imagination, the daringness, and for me, perhaps the most important issue – the effectiveness.
Teaching kids to repeat the behaviors that worked in the past without recognizing the distinctions that will cause them not to work is like studying scripture with recognition for the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law.
It is entirely ineffective to do many of the things that worked in the past. Doing so is even worse than that since it is not only ineffective initially, it has compounding effects by encouraging further self-righteous behavior that is ineffective. It enforces the ineffective. It enforces the self-righteous. It enforces a lack of imagination. It enforces not being daring. It enforces that one can show emotion without bringing the same spirit, the same underlying passion to the activity. The ineffective enforces the ineffective. And it ossifies the mind.
Teaching kids to continue the behaviors of the past. Teaching kids to continue the beliefs of the past. This is what the status quo teaches.
In whose interest is that taught and to what ends? Not the interest of the student. Not with a likelihood of change.
On Martin Luther King Day, a day that really could be a special day that inspires social change, the overwhelming majority of public action that takes place is in fact action that ossifies the mind and enforces the ineffective. Lest effective action and capable leadership be confused with impotent action and effete figureheads, MLK is precisely the day that one should be most careful in making action count.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.
Photo credit: wikipedia.org