When we study the intense struggle for civil rights in this nation, we quickly – and rightfully so – find ourselves analyzing the life and legacy of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We learn of his tireless efforts to achieve equality and justice for all of humanity, as we pass on anecdotes of sit-ins, marches and boycotts to our children. Our schools highlight the selfless sacrifice of Dr. King in rooting out the stains of racism and achieving integration across the country.
But what we as a collective sometimes forget to impress upon the next generation is the depth to which Dr. King was an advocate for federal government as he knew it was the only effective way to ensure a unified system of equality in every state. Today, the Tea Party stands to break that national stance on justice and in turn, break the crux of what the civil rights movement symbolized and what Dr. King fought and literally died for.
Long observing a consistent pattern of racist comments and behavior within the Tea Party, the NAACP recently voted on a resolution urging leaders of the Party to denounce such inflammatory elements of their organization. What has ensued is a back-and-forth between between the two groups with a national discussion surrounding race and race relations. But in this much needed conversation, we cannot glance over what the Tea Party as a whole stands for: smaller government and states’ rights. It is a group so ardently focused on state sovereignty that talk of secession and state self-regulation has become as commonplace as the bigoted signs visibly present at their gatherings. And it is an ideology that should raise alarm bells to anyone who believes in true freedom and justice for all.
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During the struggle for civil rights in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was more often than not, the federal government that intervened when state policies failed us. At Clinton High School in Tennessee, it was National Guard troops that protected Black students as they entered a desegregated educational facility for the first time. And it was the federal Supreme Court that ruled segregation resulted in unfair and unequal practices to begin with in the infamous Brown vs. Board of Education decision. It was federal policies that allowed Blacks and other folks of color to exercise their right to vote and voice their opinion in the politics and social issues of the day. It was national regulation of discriminatory housing and zoning laws that afforded the marginalized a shot at the American dream. And if we take it all the way back to the days of emancipation, it was a President and a federal government that ended the abhorrent institution of slavery.
On August 28th, 1963, Dr. King went to Washington and held a rally for the precise purpose of pushing for increased federal action and involvement to nullify all discriminatory state and local practices. As we prepare to mark the 47th anniversary of his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on this date, Glenn Beck and others push for an expansion of states’ rights – the exact antithesis of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s legacy.
We can already clearly see the detrimental effects of state regulation with the recent passage of Arizona’s immigration bill SB 1070. And when members of the Tea Party like Rand Paul state that it is perfectly permissible for private businesses to discriminate on the basis of race, we have a serious problem. The NAACP was inarguably justified to call out racist elements of the Tea Party, but we must also ensure that we question the legitimacy of the Party’s foundation itself. As the chants for states’ rights and secession get louder, we must all ask ourselves if we would truly like to return to a period where there was less federal involvement??
In the tradition of Dr. King and the civil rights movement, I urge for more – not decreased – federal intervention. This is, after all, the United States of America; let’s start acting like it.