Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a nice guy

Volunteering at soup kitchens and painting schools is great, but that’s not how Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world.

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The United States declared Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday in 1983. Since then, it has come to be celebrated as a “Day of Service,” which usually translates to volunteering in one’s community doing nice things like painting murals, picking up trash, or donating blood.

These are in themselves good things to do, but to associate MLK with volunteering is to misrepresent his life and his legacy.

Dr. King was not a volunteer. He was a revolutionary.

He did not just “work to make things better in his own community.” He wasn’t a kindly Santa Claus figure who wearily sighed, “Can’t we all just get along?”

He did not just “have a dream.” He acted on his convictions, risking––and ultimately, losing––his life to challenge the status quo of injustice. He led marches and strikes and went to jail for breaking unfair laws.

And we have every reason to believe that, had he been allowed to live, he would have continued protesting racism, war, and economic exploitation.

It’s obviously impossible to expect a country to have a nationally-designated “Day of Revolution,” but what if instead of volunteering, we had a national “Day of Reckoning” on Dr. King’s birthday? What if we read, listened, and reflected on his words and whether we have achieved the future he imagined? (What does it mean, for instance, that some states celebrate segregationist leaders on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr.?) What if we expected the country to live up to what this leader demanded? And we were expected to take action to fix the ways in which it doesn’t?

Some people are doing just that. Three years ago, Black activists called for Americans to #ReclaimMLK––sparking articles, conversations, and protests that connect Dr. King’s vision to the present day.

This year #ReclaimMLK is a week-long call to action, with each day focusing on a different theme.

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These efforts are led by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of more than 50 racial justice and civil and human rights organizations. However we can, wherever we are, I hope we can heed their call to “embrace all parts of King’s legacy.”

Learn more and find planned actions here.

*About the title of this post: recently, I have been reflecting on how challenging injustice is not “nice” or “polite” behavior. Activism requires confronting injustice and making “good trouble” and challenging “the way things are.” Dr. King was willing to stand up for his beliefs. He angered and inconvenienced both people in power and people who agreed with him but believed we should “wait for things to get better in due time.” That is what I mean when I say he was not a nice guy. In the face of injustice, I don’t believe any of us should be “nice.”

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Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a nice guy

Policed/Protected

I woke up to voices on the radio. They said a judge reversed the jury’s decision, and Peter Liang will serve no jail time.

Peter Liang, the NYPD officer who killed Akai Gurley, was found guilty of manslaughter. But the judge reduced the conviction to “criminally negligent homicide” and the punishment to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service.

akaila and akai gurley Buzzfeed
Akaila and Akai Gurley (photo via Buzzfeed)


I wanted them to say that Akai Gurley was just walking down the stairs in his apartment building.
I wanted them to say that Peter Liang fired his gun blindly into the stairwell because he heard a sound.
I wanted them to say that after his bullet hit Akai Gurley, Peter Liang left him on the ground.
I wanted them to say that Peter Liang was required to give CPR to Akai Gurley, but he didn’t.
I wanted them to say that instead of helping, he refused to answer calls from a 911 operator and his commanding officer while a man he shot lay on the ground dying.
Instead of helping, he texted his union representative and worried about being fired.
I wanted them to say that Peter Liang wasn’t even supposed to be patrolling the stairs of that building.
I wanted them to say that Akai Gurley had a two year-old baby at the time of his murder, a baby girl named after him, a baby girl who lost her dad.

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Memorial in the Pink Houses building where Akai Gurley died (Photo via The New York Times)


I wanted to say that the Pink Houses, where Akai and his family lived, were so far away from my own house in Brooklyn that it took me two trains, one bus, and an hour of travel time to get there for the vigil. When I got there, I saw nothing except brown public housing buildings, one after another. I wondered where residents could work, how they could buy groceries.

I wanted to ask how we would have reacted if the shooting had happened one hour from my house in the other direction. If, instead of East New York, a man had been killed by the police in an Upper East Side staircase.

Would we be more indignant that an innocent man was murdered by police if he had been wealthy and White? Would it be so easy to write off his death as an accident? Can we even imagine it?

Policed/Protected

12.13.14

Yesterday afternoon I joined fifty to sixty thousand people in New York City to affirm that Black lives matter at the Millions March NYC. Later I joined fifty-leven girls to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Beyoncé by Beyoncé, the visual album (okay, so it was more like a dozen friends, not fifty-leven girls).

The march was incredibly important, but I don’t think I can do it justice here, except to say that I am inspired by the wimyn of color who are leading the peaceful protests and creative acts of civil disobedience. At the marches I vacillate between grieving for all the lost lives (here and in Mexico, my other home, which still lives under the reign of La Inseguridad) and being hopeful for the systemic change necessary to end structural racism and oppression. It is exhausting, and I know I am only able to hope because I’m not alone, and because the many people leading this movement are motivated by love.

It felt strange to protest and party on the same day, but I guess it’s like Emma Goldman said, “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having.” Especially if you’re dancing to the first pop song to sample a speech on feminism as its second verse. That’s revolutionary in its own right, don’t you think? I think Emma G. would be down. Luckily my friends agreed and came over for a little party. Some of us dressed up like different characters from the videos, and we projected the whole visual album on a wall. We also ate snacks featured in the album (including the platinum edition songs):  sliders, kale, watermelon, Skittles, Blow Pops, cake by the pound… That part kind of felt like Día de Muertos. The whole night reminded me (for like the millionth time) how lucky I am to have friends who go along with my ridiculous ideas and don’t seem to mind that my guiding philosophy seems to be “A party without a theme is a party not worth planning.” (Sorry, Emma.)   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If you think this sounds way fun (and it was), you should totally throw your own Beyoncé party and show me the pictures, please and thank you. I hope Beyoncé by Beyoncé can be our generation’s Dark Side of the Moon or whatever.

XO,
kristy

snaxxx

costumes

12.13.14

Update on Unlimited Voices

On Tuesday night, with the help of a friend, I was able to deliver the 20 cards we’d raised money for through crowdrise.com/unlimitedvoices!

The page is still up if you’d like to contribute. Each seven-day unlimited card costs $31, and I’m hoping to distribute 20 more by tomorrow night so that the activists can use them to get to ‪#‎MillionsMarchNYC on Saturday‬. You can learn more about this project here.

Incidentally, yesterday there was a story on WNYC about how the less money you have, the more expensive it is to use public transit in New York. Unlimited Voices is a small and temporary solution, but the cards are already making a difference during a historic week of action. Thanks to everyone who has donated, signal-boosted, and been (too) kind to me over the past three days.

Here are some pictures from the night we distributed the MetroCards.

My friend Hyunhee, who also donated, volunteered to help me deliver the MetroCards.

This is Thierry, possibly the most committed activist I’ve ever met. The night we marched together, he and his team NAAPS had protested in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan all in a single day! Now they have 10 MetroCards to go all over and keep their incredible momentum going. They’ve been out every day and we are all invited to march with them in Manhattan on Saturday for #MillionsMarchNYC. Let me know if you would like to march with us at smoothliminal@gmail.com so I can send you directions to our meeting place. They are also planning a benefit to raise money for Eric Garner’s family. You can see them in action here.

NAAPS gave me a t-shirt to thank all of us. Thierry explained that the question mark at the end of the statement is meant to provoke thought about how this can really be happening.

Here are members of the New York Justice League. They have been on the ground 24/7 leading thoughtful actions including the die-ins at the Apple Store and the #royalshutdown at Atlantic Center Mall to demonstrate that we are not OK with business as usual. I’m really grateful to New York Justice League for their leadership and know that they will make sure the cards get to dedicated grassroots activists.

On top of their organizing work—which has also helped Brooklyn Nets basketball players protest on the court while we rallied outside—New York Justice League has articulated our demands to New York City and the N.Y.P.D. You can sign the petition at gatheringforjustice.org.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed. I’ll update you as soon as we reach our second goal and distribute the second batch of cards.

Update on Unlimited Voices