Today is Martin Luther King Day! In the past on this day I have attended some events to commemorate his life which were usually in church settings. I swore off attending such events for MLK Day after the last one I attended featured a speaker who I know has made statements against homosexuals, feminist and non – Christians. I just didn’t feel this speakers prejudices were in keeping with the spirit of MLK’s teachings.
The Elecpencil did venture out this AM to attend an event celebrating King. I attended this event because it was not going to be a religious service honoring MLK. It was a think tank of area activists talking about how in King’s honor we might serve Youngstown in 2009. It was a much better event than past MLK ones I have attended and I thank Tyler Clark and all who put it together. I love the fact that folks like, Tyler, Susie Beiersdorfer and Phil Kidd have moved to our area from elsewhere and are dedicated to making it a better place for all.
Like me not everyone in attendance is a Youngstown resident. That doesn’t mean that we care about Youngstown any less than those who live there. For those of us who don’t live in Youngstown it is a struggle getting our communities to understand why they should care about Youngstown.
There is some truth in a joke I tell that drivers from the suburbs have GPS devices that warn them to turn their car around as they approach Gypsy Lane or Midlothian Blvd. I’ve had people in different suburbs say if they have to go somewhere in Youngstown they don’t stop at red lights. As someone who is frequently in Youngstown I take extra care when driving realizing the biggest danger to me is those suburbanites running red lights. To me the Mahoning Valley is my community so it seems obvious to me that all of the areas in it should have “common unity.”
A number of years ago I belonged to the late Youngstown Workers Solidarity Club. The club existed to help other workers in their labor struggles. We found the best way to help was to ask them exactly what they needed instead of ever assuming. We listened and let them decide what steps they wanted to take and then showed up to help serve them. Many of the club’s members would often feel those we were helping needed to take more direct action or militant actions but we stayed silent and supported what actions they were willing to take. The club’s members knew that unions were useless until they realize that their rank and file members are the union. Our club was made up of rank and filers and supporters who realized that our unions worked within the system and that the system was broken.
In MLK’s honor we need to learn to listen to the poor and help them realize they aren’t someone to be pitied but someone who needs to be self-empowered. This is the “bottom up” type of change that needs to happen to make for a better world not some “trickle down” change from above. Those in the above class don’t care that the system is broken because it works for them. Maybe those of us that want to help others shouldn’t be called, “activists” but should instead be called,”‘servists.”
I’d like all labor “servists” to remember that Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support a garbage strike the day he was assassinated.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.