On April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” In doing so, King made a very public break with President Lyndon Johnson.
Johnson was seen as an ally, and it was feared that the civil rights movement would fail without his support. King’s new stance was a declaration that he would depend on the determination of the people and cease being a pawn to the White House, Congress or any other authority.
King’s decision was condemned by the political establishment. He was vilified by the New York Times, the Washington Post and the rest of the corporate media. His own father and others in leadership positions in civil rights organizations criticized him, too.
But he rejected the idea that he had to compromise his principals. On the contrary, King understood that drawing a line in the sand against imperialism was necessary to bring about the radical changes he wanted to see in the United States.
While there were always threats to his life, King’s political realignment was most probably the cause of his assassination one year later on April 4, 1968. It is fitting that this date is remembered and that on this occasion people of conscience assess the meaning of the last year of his life.
The United States finally left Vietnam in 1975. That defeat made clear that invasions may fail in the face of resistance and that over time, they may lose political and public support. As a result, the U.S. didn’t send a large-scale military force anywhere else until the 1990 Gulf War against Iraq. But since then, this country has been on a killing spree that doesn’t stop – regardless of which party is in the White House.
The international neo-liberal regime now rules over this country and the world. Inequality continues at a rapid pace, as does the ecocide caused by the same forces. The country continues its rightward shift and there are fewer and fewer policy differences between Democrats and Republicans. Black political leadership are a shell of their former selves and they are complicit in maintaining the worsening conditions that Black people are subjected to.
On April 4, 2019, we committed to acting as King did 51 years ago. We are still being sold the siren song of that era which says that we must be satisfied with whatever domestic policy changes we can get. We are advised to let Bernie Sanders or any other old-school Democrat slide if they promise to give the people some of what they need. Mealy-mouthed protestations about a coup attempt against Venezuela are to be accepted, just as Johnson was to be given a pass about Vietnam.
If we are going to remember King, we must be like him and put international issues at the forefront. There is no line of demarcation. It is impossible to have justice at home and injustice abroad.
The existence of some 1,000 foreign military facilities inevitably leads to a 1033 program that gives surplus military equipment to local police departments. When the military accounts for 60 percent of discretionary spending, the people’s needs cannot be met. A U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM, becomes inevitable as the fight for domination leaves no region of the world untouched.
The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) second anniversary celebration on April 4, 2019 provided a road map of how to move forward. Black Agenda Report joined this event in Washington along with other commentators and activists affirming the need to act as King did.
Ironically, NATO held a meeting that same day in celebration of its 70th anniversary. The NATO celebration taking place at the same time is an insult, yet it is also fortuitous. Their presence proves the need to protest against the hegemon and will be is a reminder of how April 4 should be commemorated.
Making common cause with people around the world is a revolutionary act and that is precisely what is needed at this juncture. Let NATO inspire a mass movement that seeks to end its power and to free millions of people from being subjected to the whims of the United States and its vassals.
The Black Alliance for Peace demands that the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus end AFRICOM and close foreign military bases. It opposes interventions, sanctions and all means of warfare. BAP also announced its domestic campaign and in so doing, makes good on King’s real dream of creating a “radical revolution of values.”
The liberation movement of King’s era should not be seen as a miraculous occurrence that cannot be repeated again. It succeeded through political demands which always worked in tandem with mass action. The need to free ourselves from an imploding system makes the rebirth of such a movement an imperative.
The way to remember departed leaders and the millions who followed them is to act as they did. April 4 gives us this opportunity.