By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers
My sister Julie jokes that the national holiday on Jan. 15 is in honor of her birthday.
Jan. 15 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it falls on Monday this year, the date of the legal observance.
Since 1986, the United States has rightfully honored King, a civil rights leader who advocated for nonviolent solutions up until his assassination in 1968. King has inspired civil rights supporters since delivering his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
King loyalists lobbied Congress for 15 years before finally getting this national holiday recognized and segued into law in 1983, and not without opposition. As we enjoy a day off of work and classes, however, don’t get too comfortable because there is work still to be done. In recent years, the civil rights movement seems to have taken a few steps back.
King once said, “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s important.”
While public lynchings may be no more, racism still exists at an invisible yet working level. A good example is opposition to “political correctness” or “PC.”
After years of work to eliminate some derogatory terms, people still twist their noses when asked to be respectful of all cultures. It’s inconvenient and so they label it “reverse racism” or a “violation of freedom of speech.”
In this country, we have free speech, but with that comes responsibility and consequences.
In his book, “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America,” Pat Buchanan refers to the civil rights movement as “liberalism’s hour.” In an effort to undermine progress, a misguided Buchanan says, “The Civil Rights revolution dethroned one moral order and enthroned another. … The charge of ‘racism’ has become modernity’s equivalent of the charge of heresy in the Inquisition. The punishment for the latter was death for the unrepentant. Modernity’s punishment for remarks deemed as racist, and unrepentance is political ruin and pariah status.”
What Buchanan doesn’t understand is that civil rights does not, and should not, connote taking rights from one group and giving them to another.
Ideally, everyone wins and is treated equally. Yet there remains that stigma of “radicalism” and “leftism.” In the truest sense, civil rights advocates are conservatives protecting our constitution. Yet in the 1970s, even local civil rights leaders were referred to as “insurgents” and “rebel rousers.”
Latinos in California fought for a state holiday in honor of another civil rights leader known for nonviolent tactics, Cesar Chavez.
Cesar Chavez Day is observed on March 31. In fact, there is a Martin Luther King-Cesar Chavez-Rosa Parks initiative working to achieve parity in education, and at the University of Texas in Austin, they are erecting a Chavez statue alongside King.
Kids today can read about King and Chavez in history books. However, I worry that they may think the struggle for civil rights is something of the past when, in fact, it’s a continuous effort.
We all need to keep abreast of what’s going on around us and within our government. Today, many of us are up to date on what’s happening on MySpace but not at City Hall. We need to be a part of that process — and a part of our own history. And when necessary, we need to defend injustices.
As history has shown, and as we’re seeing, particularly in the areas of personal liberties (property rights and due process), slacking off can turn gains into setbacks.
I leave you with the words of Mexican hero Emiliano Zapata, which I was pleased to see on a T-shirt: “I would rather die on my feet than live a lifetime on my knees.”
Bear this in mind as we remember Martin Luther King.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: