Dr. Martin Luther King ? if he were alive today ? would have embraced the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Homes movement and spoken out against the current exploitative economic system, members of Occupy the Hood articulated during a spirited MLK Day march in Minneapolis. “If you think that Martin Luther King would not have stood with Occupy, then you don’t know Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Mel Reeves, an activist with Occupy Minnesota. “If you think that he wouldn’t have stood with people in your neighborhood who’ve had their homes foreclosed upon, then you don’t know King. If you think he wouldn’t stand with the homeless and say out lout that they deserve homes and shelters, then you don’t know MLK.”
Nearly 200 activists from a diverse coalition of community organizing groups marched from the Salvation Army Harbor Light building to City Hall, where they sang a spirited Stevie Wonder version of “Happy birthday” and heard speeches and hip-hop performances. Their chants echoed the Occupy movement, and their speeches echoed the words of Dr. King ? not just the well-known “I have a dream” speech on the National Mall in 1963, but King’s actions against poverty, inequality, and the Vietnam War.
“Dr. King was a drum major for justice. He imagined a world of social justice, and he fought for that world,” said Rose Brewer, an African-American studies professor at the University of Minnesota who said that King’s words for justice continue to ring true today. “There are deep divides and disparities within our population. Even within the 99 percent there are certain populations that have been dispossessed. There’s unemployment of 22 percent among the African-American community in Minnesota. And home ownership is less than 25 percent for black and brown communities.”
In front of City Hall, Brewer attempted to portray the true King and not the version that often graces our history books in schools. “Many will hear the ‘I have a Dream speech’. But by the last years of his life, King was naming capitalism and imperialism and the need for human rights. His greatest speech might have been his ‘It’s time to break the silence’ speech at Riverside Baptist Church in D.C., which called out America for its imperialism.
Crystal Porter, a local Occupy Homes activist, offered a parallel between the current economic inequality affecting communities of color and slavery. “We can’t continue to allow the puppet masters to pull our strings. We need to cut the strings that have been attached to our parents’ parents since slavery. If it wasn’t for the annihilation of one race and the free labor of another, these puppet-masters would not be sitting pretty today. If every slave was paid for their services and every tribe was paid the true worth for their land, America would look very different today.”