Dr. King went to Democratic politicians for legislative support of his call for change. One of the most insightful explanations you will find on that is the one from Bill Moyers here:
By the time of his death, he and Bobby Kennedy had found themselves pretty much on the same page after LBJ withdrew from the race and Bobby entered the race for President. The energy that fateful year became palpable on the Democratic side. Then with the deaths of both Bobby and Dr. King that energy got channeled into frustration. And that contributed to the ugly scenes at the Democratic convention later that year. I am going to call that “Dream Shattered, Chaos Ensues.” Here is video of Bobby himself trying to tamp down the chaos after Dr. King’s death:
Over the last forty years, only twelve of those years have seen Democratic presidents. The Democratic Congress gradually disappeared altogether and resurfaced in 2006 as a mere shadow of its previous powerful self. The power of unions, a driving force for the Democratic Party, declined as well, with notable anti-union policies beginning with Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. As the power of the unions declined, the power of corporate entities rose, again with a particular deregulatory emphasis starting during the Reagan administration in the 1980s. There is no doubt that Dr. King would have been fighting for the little man during this time, not just for civil rights for minorities but against poverty and practices that contributed to that poverty.
As we leave the desert (Nevada primary), the Promised Land (A Democratic President with a Democratic congress working on Democratic issues) is coming into view. We still have to make it through the remaining primaries and come out on the other side of those with a unified energetic party that will fight together for getting out of Iraq, universal health care and sane economic policies that do not give unfair advantage to corporate interests. I cannot help but believe if Dr. King were alive today he would be standing with us and leading the charge on all these things.
As in 1968, the energy is palpable again after our forty year wilderness journey. Everywhere there is a contested Democratic primary there is record turnout that contrasts sharply with the lackluster interest on the Republican side. History seems to be on our side. My friend Eric Massa discusses this here:
And each of the top three candidates has some connection to Dr. King’s legacy. Senator Clinton worked to bring change after his death by recruiting black students and teachers at Wellesley and has done much in her adult life that was directly inspired by Dr. King. Barack Obama has been an organizer in black communities and has a powerful gift for oratory that is reminiscent of Dr. King. More than either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama, John Edwards has a populist message that gets to the heart and soul of the Democratic party, also reminiscent of Dr. King.
As we work through these remaining primaries we must recognize that we all need each other. Each of the three bring something to the table the other does not have. Senator Clinton seems to have the support of Hispanics out west in a way that Barack Obama does not. (I grant that this is based on a limited amount of evidence. I was actually surprised by what happened in Nevada in this respect. You can read statements here and here to get a sense of what I am talking about.) Obama has the gift of oratory and energizes young and old alike but seems to especially energize the youth of America and African Americans. And in addition to reminding us why we are all here, John Edwards embodies the changes over the last few years more than anyone else in that he has dramatically shifted from a post-9/11 conservative to progressive populist. And both seem to be the right position for the time.
Let us move forward as we leave the desert of Nevada with a renewed sense of unity and optimism. Let a progressive Democratic movement pick up where it got cut off in 1968. Let’s end our forty years of wandering in the wilderness and work together to usher in a new period that works to achieve goals that Dr. King would have been happy to see realized. Let’s keep Dr. King’s dream alive. Let’s call it “Achieving the Dream 2.0.” I want to hold hands with Obama supporters and Edwards supporters and Clinton supporters and sing We Shall Overcome at the convention.