Today, in the US, is Martin Luther King Day.
He is, rightly, remembered and celebrated by, well, nearly everyone. I have no doubt he deserves to have a public holiday named after him.
But there is a risk with all this though. Giving someone a public holiday, accepting them into part of the establishment and the fabric of society, can be a subtle way for their true legacy to be controlled and manipulated.
Martin Luther-King was an outspoken advocate of non violent direct action. He was utterly committed to non-violence, but this never meant he was passive in the face of injustice: he was arrested almost 30 times in ten years because he refused to comply with oppression, even if the oppression was legal and his actions were not.
He stood up not just against racial injustice but against money and militarism. Widely remember as a face and name of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King was outspoken about other issues of injustice, poverty, and violence too. He never stuck to just fighting his own battles, but fought on behalf of others as well. He refused to accept the dominant economic and militaristic models, the very models of the society which has tried to adopt him.
Extremist has become a dirty word. Maybe it was then too, but Martin Luther King embraced that identity
“The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love”
It is up to us to ensure that it is his true legacy which lives on. Martin Luther King was a man of faith and integrity who, committed to non-violence, fought the systems of oppression to the point of giving his life for the cause. We have much to learn and much to live up to.