I went to the MLK50 event in Memphis, TN. It commemorated the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Everyone present, was there to honor the late Dr. King. It was a cold day, but the sun was shining brightly. It didn’t stop the thousands of people to honor the late great King. The atmosphere felt electric. There were thousands of people along with famous personalities, from politicians to musicians. It was obvious that King’s message still resonated to this day.
Yet, there were two themes that emerged: on the one hand, participants were commemorating the life of an effective activist, but on the other hand there was frustration that things haven’t’ changed since King’s unfortunate death. Poverty is still very common, the struggle for equality is still a reality, classism still exists, and there is also a very strong sense of militarism.
Upon the arrival of Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell to the stage, both men were met with boos from the crowd. Chants of “no change” were heard throughout both of their speeches. There was a rumor being spread that Obama may be present in Memphis. That seemed to get folks excited, but later it was known it would be a message on one of the larger displays, which seemed to be pre-recorded.
The most emotional part of the event was when a massive white wreath was placed on the balcony where King was assassinated. The crowd was silent. Nothing but the sound of bells was heard, ringing 39 times. Once for each year of his life. I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen when all of this is over. Will this day be forgotten? For a second, everyone was in unison. Everyone was honoring King. His sacrifice seemed to be acknowledged by everyone in attendance.
There was also some obvious group polarization in the crowds. Many people I noticed who were there just as casual observers, joined in with some of the chanting as well as the booing. This seemed to harbor on one of the Two Functions of Polarization as discussed by Sunstein. Perhaps some of the participants did hold an inner desire or belief to be a part of a protest. Those same people were able to see others display their frustrations, and in turn, it pushed them to share their own.
Polarization isn’t always a bad thing. It can cause individuals to act upon an idea that they have had. Some of the other questions being asked at the event were, where do we go from here? It’s nice that we are honoring a man as great as the late King, but what happens after all the news cameras go away? What happens when all the celebrities leave? Are people willing to take on the causes of King? Are they willing to make the sacrifices he did? Or is commemorating his death once a year as far as their activism will lead them? “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”