Labor Advocate Online

More Than Just a Dreamer
by Bill Onasch

Dreams are essential to humans. Those deprived of REM sleep are unable to function for long.

What goes for individuals applies to classes within society as well. Without the capacity for dreaming, imagining something better, we will stumble along, condemned to present circumstances–or even relapse to worse.

Of course dreaming can also be promoted as a form of not advance but escape from reality. Many clergy, especially among those who actively promoted the "moral values" of the Bush campaign, urge their flock to be laborers worthy of hire, and renderers unto Caesar, in the present--in exchange for the dream of eternity in heaven. "Work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die" was an apt description of this branch of theology summed up in an old IWW song.

But there are men and women of the cloth who have gone beyond such safe and simple minded adaptation to our present class society. While having faith in a better hereafter they also dream of a better here and now.

Martin Luther King Jr made such a dream famous through a combination of powerful oratory–and audiences sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands. He captured the imagination and inspired the most downtrodden among American society–African-Americans. Along the way he shook up a lot of white folks too.

He wasn’t content, however, to stop with this dream. He also acted. Maybe he didn’t go as far or as fast as some of us would have liked to have seen at the time but his contribution was enormous. He helped mobilize masses of people in the streets to fight for civil rights. He supported workers in trade union struggles. He spoke out against the Vietnam war.

Such leaders are all too rare. There was another Black clergy, of a different faith, who also was developing a mass following among African-Americans struggling for justice in the Sixties–Malcolm X. Both of these greats died from assassin’s bullets. Their movements, while continuing, have never fully recovered from this loss.

The cynical Establishment has given us a King holiday–just as we have holidays commemorating Washington, Lincoln, and Columbus. They hope as the years go by, and our memories fade, MLK will become the same kind of irrelevant icon as the "Founder of Our Country," the man who "freed the slaves," and the man who "discovered America." They envision a day when the malls will have Martin Luther King White Sales.

Both King and American working people of all colors deserve better. We should take this occasion to review his dream and to incorporate it into our vision of a better world. More than that, this should be a time to honor his action-packed life cut short with re-dedication to struggle for justice for all working people in the here and now.

1/15/2005