The national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. was hard-won in the state of Arizona. In the late 80s, we had an ultra-conservative governor, and a complacent legislature (as sadly, we do again), who refused to join the majority of the country, and honor this great American figure for freedom. Despite the public outcry, and the eventual impeachment of then-governor Evan Mecham, it took about 5 years for the holiday to become law in this state. A short timeline:
1983, Congress passes, President Reagan signs, legislation creating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
1986, Federal MLK holiday goes into effect
In 1987, Arizona governor Evan Mecham rescinds MLK Day as his first act in office, setting off a boycott of the state.
In 1992, Arizona citizens vote to enact MLK Day.
1993, For the first time, MLK Day is held in some form—sometimes under a different name, and not always as a paid state holiday—in all fifty states.
So today, I am off of work from school. It is a day of reflection for me, and hopefully for many other citizens in this state, as it should be in states across the nation. I started the day watching a special on PBS World, on the filming of Eyes on the Prize, a massive documentary released in 1987. (click on photo below for more information)
It has also been a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, as well as how far we’ve stepped back—and how what was once a fight for equality and social justice, now encompasses much more. Poverty, economic inequality, and continued violence continues nearly unabated in our country. It continues to be perpetuated against those of color, those of other national origins, different religions, and sexual orientations. Our only weapon against it spiraling completely out of control is the power of social media, and a new breed of activists who are not afraid to stand up.
So today, I am grateful for MLK’s legacy, and for his message of The Dream. It is a day for reflection and service to others. For some others, this time may be more about having an extra day off to go buy discounted products, and binge-watch their favorite TV shows. I think it is profoundly sad when our society uses a holiday such as this one, a day that should be about giving back and standing up for what is right, to sell products and cash in on it.
Although it is admirable to grow our economy at the grassroots level, and to encourage people to work and earn a living, using this day as an impetus to get out and buy stuff is a bit insulting, especially as there are still so many in this society that cannot partake in our economic freedom, because poverty and inequality is still so prevalent, especially among non-white races.
Refugees, immigrants, and disadvantaged citizens of this country will not benefit from any “deals” on this day. More likely, they will be on the other end: Working long hours, making little money to show for it, and having no real voice in our society–and thus, no real rights. What kind of “deal” is that?
So, if one is inclined to go out and buy things in the name of MLK Day, remember that our freedom, which was (and is still) so costly, is the reason that we can do so today. That we can have a day off from work and service, that we can shop anywhere we wish, that we can eat in any restaurant, that we can ride on public transportation, and most importantly: That we can stand up publicly and speak out against what is wrong in our government and society–these are the reasons for a holiday. We still have a long way to go in gaining the full impact of MLK’s dream, but there is still hope that we will, if people of all ages, orientations, religions and races, here and in the world over, keep their eyes on the prize.