UPDATED: 6:47 a.m. EDT, Jan. 21 —
The longest government shutdown in history has been doing a great disservice to the civil rights icon’s timeless legacy of fighting for the people. Were King alive today — on the national holiday named in his honor — he would surely have some sage commentary sympathizing with the 800,000 government workers and their families who have effectively been held hostage by the president as some of them worked but none of them got paid.
That would explain in part why the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network planned a rally last week in New York City to observe King’s birthday (he would have been 90 this year) alongside “activists and unions affected by the shutdown to tell Trump that this has gone on far too long,” according to an announcement for the event. The rally was scheduled to start a couple of hours after federal employee unions square off against the government over the unions’ lawsuit against the government for not paying employees working during the partial shutdown.
People may remember how more than a month ago the president boasted he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” if Congress didn’t allocate billions of dollars to fund the construction of a wall along the nation’s southern border with Mexico that is based on Trump’s racist and xenophobic pretenses. (Never mind the fact that Trump has insisted for years that Mexico would pay for the wall.)
Dr. King saw the civil rights movement and the union movement as natural allies, the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest and strongest union, has reminded people. That alliance was on full display at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which King delivered a speech to a massive group of civil rights marchers gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963.
King’s pro-union stance was also clear and present during his historic “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech given to striking Memphis sanitation workers one day before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Despite glaring differences in scenarios between the union strike then and the current government shutdown, the two still bore some similarities, as King laid out during the address:
“God’s children here suffering (That’s right), sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. (That’s right) And we’ve got to say to the nation, we know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”
Clarence B. Jones, the former personal counsel, advisor, speechwriter and friend of King, previously offered his personal views about how he thought the civil rights leader would have reacted to the government being shut down.
“He would say that in the common interest of humanity and decency, that we must put aside your partisan, political differences and focus on those programs which will be of the greatest benefit to the people who need benefits,” Jones said in part during a government shutdown in 2013.
Jones went on to say that King would only be concerned about the “morality” of a question, which, of course, in this case would center on Trump demanding billions of dollars to build a wall to prevent something that isn’t happening — an “invasion” of immigrants, as he put it.
King’s daughter, Bernice King, recently all but echoed Jones’ sentiments.
“This situation is putting a strain on so many peoples’ lives,” she said about the lingering government shutdown. “At the end of the day it has to be about people. If everybody continues to dig-in, we’re headed for worse than a depression.”