Memphis, Tennessee recently held the event “MLK 50” in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the tragic loss of the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who helped unify the people of the city through the message of still needed change within our democracy. The still needed change concerning civil rights was actively displayed during the commemoration through verbal protests, respective but explicit signs of change, and an overall present attitude of urgency stimulated by fear that MLK’s message of non-violently achieved equality could easily be forgotten tomorrow.
Considering this opposition within the event, the idea of present work needing to be finished in the face of tragedy and loss, was actively promoted by the people of Memphis. This attitude considers unfortunate situations, while maintaining needed progress, as an active reaction to events such as the one remembered on this day.
Throughout the event, thousands gathered outside of the Lorraine Hotel, the spot in which King was assassinated, and now stands as the National Civil Rights Museum in downtown Memphis. The event had a multitude of speakers ranging from local political leaders to student leaders to elected state officials, as well as celebrity performances and appearances in support of the commemoration. As the event took place, many of the elected officials who spoke received direct outspoken opposition, specifically Mayor Jim Strickland and Governor Bill Haslam. Chants stating “No Change” as well as someone yelling that Governor Bill Haslam “should lose his job.” promoted the crowds attitude of discontent as these speakers seemed to present the more “token” oriented side of the commemoration.
The idea of actively holding elected officials accountable for their actions is a democratic ideal that ensures proper representation from politicians. Seeing such direct opposition to the speaking of these mentioned officials made me reflect on how proper representation within democracies can be abused by official’s neglect or disregard for the general welfare of the entirety of their respective jurisdiction.
Representation within a democracy supports the general welfare of the community beyond the constituency that elected the respective official. Considering this in regard to the verbal opposition of these speakers, erosion within democratic standards of proper population representation at the state and local level was promoted within this reactive display at the event. Official accountability is “a crucial test of representative democracy is the responsiveness of elected officials to the views of their constituents.” (Kinder and Cam, 2009)
The voiced opposition displayed want for accountability in representation that actively addresses the two official’s negligent inaction concerning racial justice and economic oppression. The opposition of the event addressed the elected officials disregard for needed change displayed within our democracy, such as African Americans being killed by police with zero consequences, and White America’s ever present explicit and implicit racist attitude.
In addition to verbal protests, some attempted to bring signs within the event, however were not allowed to due to event rules considering this was a commemoration not a protest. I spotted a sign that promoted The Poor People’s Campaign, held by a black person supporting as King did and would the empowerment of impoverished people in America during the event. Considering the message of this movement, this sign represented a needed reminder that the change King sought must not only be remembered but actively established through advancement of the economically oppressed.
The actuality of this present action was my main concern when leaving the event, considering the protest like atmosphere of this historic commemoration that altered the attitude of the crowd through explicit reminders of the lack of change that has yet to occur since the death of Dr. King.
Through my perception, many African Americans and other strong minorities present demonstrated attitudes of reverence for the life and work of Dr. King that loosely masked the discontent many felt as our government still fails to ensure equality. Additionally littered throughout the crowd, many white people respectfully honored the legacy of Dr. King but held an obvious attitude of a genuine want for equality that lacked a direct means in achievement.
Now it is up to the diverse community of Memphis, to unify as a political force that initiates systematic change within our city through representation that supports general welfare in true equality. The true power that this commemoration displayed was that people do care about the civil rights movement that must be continued to achieve true equality.
Considering this extensive support of the movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I do believe the community of Memphis may demonstrate this unified power again, this time at the polls, voting out unaccountable representatives throughout the various levels of city, county, and state government.
-Image received from AP News https://www.apnews.com/9c0d4176ccae4b758ae1cc5d5d07aaa5
-Account, Gov. Bill HaslamVerified. “Gov. Bill Haslam (@BillHaslam).” Twitter, Twitter, 13 Apr.2018, twitter.com/BillHaslam?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor.
-Account, Mayor Jim StricklandVerified. “Mayor Jim Strickland (@MayorMemphis).” Twitter, Twitter, 13 Apr. 2018, twitter.com/mayormemphis?lang=en.
-“A Commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” MLK 50, mlk50.civilrightsmuseum.org/mlk50-media.
-“A National Call for Moral Revival.” Poor People’s Campaign, www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/.
-Brown, Emma. “The Overwhelming Whiteness of U.S. Private Schools, in Six Maps and Charts.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Mar. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/03/29/the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-u-s-private-schools-in-six-maps-and-charts/?utm_term=.eea53dc408c7.
-“Conclusion.” Us Against Them- Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion , by Kinder and Kam, University of Chicago Press, 2010.
-Lind, Dara. “Nazi Slogans and Violence at a Right-Wing March in Charlottesville on Friday Night.” Vox, Vox, 12 Aug. 2017, www.vox.com/2017/8/12/16138132/charlottesville-rally-brawl-nazi.
-Memphis, MLK50. “Where Do We Go from Here? Rebellion or Respectability.” MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, 4 Apr. 2018, mlk50.com/where-do-we-go-from-here-rebellion-or-respectability-e5d2e3afc6