Monday, August 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Events: The 1963 March on Washington and Glen Beck’s “Restoring Honor” Rally
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

The 1963 March on Washington changed my life. As a 17 year old college athlete moved by the Civil Rights struggle, but unsure how to get involved, the sight of two hundred fifty thousand Blacks and whites peacefully gathering together in the Nation’s capital to demand passage of a Civil Rights bill made me feel that something profound and significant was happening in the country that demanded my participation. And when I heard Dr King’s speech offering a vision of justice in which people of all racial and religious backgrounds could play a part, I felt he was speaking directly to me. As soon as I got back to school, I joined the campus chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and volunteered to do tutoring and tenant organizing. The rest is history. Forty seven years later, I am a Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, whose life has been profoundly enriched by participation in social justice struggles, the study of African American history, and the building of deep friendships that cross lines of race, religion, nationality and sexual orientation.
Given this history, it was both shocking and upsetting to see Glen Beck use the very same setting, and the very same date, to mount all-white protest against the policies of the Obama Administration and promulgate a vision of religious faith that negates everything that Dr King stood for during his extraordinary life. That Beck could speak of “reclaiming the civil rights movement” in one sentence and denounce any form of religious faith that promoted redistribution of wealth, in another shows either his total cynicism, or his complete lack of familiarity with Dr King’s speeches and writings. Dr King, the theologian, was not just concerned with assuring individual rights for all, regardless of race creed or color, he was preoccupied with understanding how imbalances in wealth and power, deformed societies and created a climate where violence would thrive. One of his greatest speeches, his” Declaration of Independence from the War In Vietnam” was all about how the US “ was on the wrong side of a world revolution,” and how the pursuit of profits and he defense of vast imbalances in wealth was responsible for violence at home and abroad.
Dr Martin Luther King, though a man of peace, was a social revolutionary who believed that the health of societies was enhanced by the pursuit of equality. No where was that more true than his speech at the March on Washington. As I listened to that speech, I was overwhelmed by a sense not only that America could only be true to its ideals if Black people were given equal rights, but that each of us would be ultimately judged by how well our actions served those less fortunate than themselves. A nation, like a family, Dr King argued powerfully, could only truly achieve well being if all of its members were healthy and cared for, and he spoke of healing the wounds of racism and poverty as a sacred task that would not only ennoble everyone associated with it, but would greatly enhance America’s standing among the nations of the world.
Dr King’s genius was his ability to make people feel that devoting their lives to helping others immeasurably enriched their experience of living, while making the nation they lived in stronger and more respected. That someone could use his words and example to promote institutionalized selfishness as both Christian and patriotic is not only to distort his legacy, it is to defile it!
Mark Naison
September 30, 2010


Don Ryan, freelance writer said...

Beck, Palin, and their ilk are not out to solve our societal problems as much as make a fast buck, or, more appropriately, a fast few million bucks. They are, in my estimation, nothing more than shamanic televangelists in another suit of clothes, peddling simplistic and often bigoted remedies for stubborn and thorny issues. Only they don't have to ask for money, the networks (or at least FOX) will gladly give it to them in exchange for their hardcore niche audiences.

Unfortunately, we found out in the last White House administration what can be done when jingoistic rhetoric replaces facts and scholarly thinking. We revert to that Bush-era practice at our own peril.

Of course, demagogues like Beck et al have existed before, but now their reach has been enhanced through modern technology. This makes them more dangerous than their predecessors.

We need to remain vigilant and expose the repulsiveness of their claims in order to prevent their vile and cancerous "preachings" from spoiling more minds.

I suspect Dr. King would have been dumbfounded to learn that his work and legacy was being hijacked by those who would just as soon reverse the gains that have been made since his time, when he represented another beacon of hope and change.

Don Ryan

Mark Naison said...


Thanks for posting your comments. I agree with everything you say here. Racism and xenophobia, properly packaged, has a huge audience and can bring unimagined wealth and fame to those who express it using the appropriate code words. Limbaugh, Beck and Palin have become millionairres many times over following this formula.

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