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Sight Magazine – Essay: The January 6 Insurgency Journey to Martin Luther King’s Day

Going through RNS

“It happens in America first,” sang Leonard Cohen in his song “Democracy.” And then continue: “The cradle of the best and the worst. ”

The worst was on January 6, 2021. Now the pictures are familiar. White mobs ransacking the United States Capitol, threatening lawmakers and attacking police, attempting to destroy the most sacred constitutional process, the peaceful transfer of power to duly elected officials.

“The last time America saw middle-class whites involved in violence was during the expansion of the KKK in the 1920s,” said researcher Robert Pape, who specializes in the study of politically motivated violence. Recount Atlantic.

Strong bipartisan support would be needed to pass civil rights legislation through Congress, President John F Kennedy told leaders of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Leaders of the march, including Martin Luther King, Jr (fifth from left) spent an hour with Kennedy (second from right) after the protest, which drew over 200,000 people to Capitol Hill. PHOTO: Religious Information Service / File photo

Why would this group, made up largely of middle-aged whites with good jobs, attack their own nation? After exhaustive analysis, Pape and his research team isolated one fascinating variable: the crowd members came from counties where the white population share was declining.

They were whites who felt replaced by ethnic, racial and religious minorities in a country that belonged to them by right. To maintain their supremacy, they felt they had to destroy the diverse democracy.

“The January 6 trip to Martin Luther King Jr Day is an opportunity to reflect on this theme: what is most remarkable about the United States is that the very people who have suffered the nation’s worst have embodied at his best. African Americans not only believed in the ideals of the nation, they sacrificed themselves so that those ideals belong to everyone. “

Donald Trump was a past master in the art of linking his personal grievance to this collective grievance. Here are the words he spoke on January 6, an active element that turned the crowd into a crowd: “Our country has been under siege for a long time, much longer than this period of four years. You are the real people. You are the people who built this nation … And if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country.

Eugene Goodman stood in the way. A black police officer in the midst of a murderous white mob, he had the presence of mind to guide lawmakers one way and lure insurgents in the other.

For me, it was more than a little symbolic. I consider Goodman to be part of the tradition of black Americans who believed in American ideals and guardians of American democracy.

The January 6 trip to Martin Luther King Jr Day is an opportunity to reflect on this theme: The most remarkable thing about the United States is that the very people who have suffered the worst in the nation have embodied at best. African Americans not only believed in the ideals of the nation, they sacrificed themselves so that those ideals belong to everyone.

Frederick Douglass was ruthless in his description of American racism in his famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”. And yet, he closed this speech with a declaration of hope for the American project: “I do not despair of this country”, he declared, and then praised the “great principles” of the founding documents of the ‘America and’ the genius of American institutions. . ”

Nikole Hannah Jones, who inspired a calculation on the origins of America with his 1619 Project, again spoke of the importance of achieving the “magnificent ideals” of the European founders of 1776.

Langston Hughes put it this way: “O, yes, / I make it clear, / America has never been America to me / And yet I swear this oath – America will be!”

But Hughes didn’t just insist on freedom and equality for his community. In that same poem, “Let America Be America Again”, Hughes spoke of “the red man driven from the earth”, of the immigrants “who left the dark shore of Ireland, / and the plains of Poland” , the workers on strike, the poor waiting in the relief line, the farmers with their plows in the fields.

When given a voice, the very people who have been systematically excluded from American ideals have used their voices to insist that these ideals include us all.

It even meant the oppressor, reformed. Black people have long believed that you could not only change your nation, you might even be able to change your enemy.

Thurgood Marshall maintained friendships with segregationists, sometimes speaking out for their personal character even as he opposed their political views. Shirley Chisholm visited George Wallace in hospital after being shot. Bryan Stevenson developed as much sympathy for the racist white prison guard as he had for the falsely accused black prisoner. Loretta Ross accompanied a former leader of the Aryan nations named Floyd Cochran on an atonement tour.

Clearly, there is a religious dynamic at work here. Redeeming the nation is a sacred project. It was an ethic that found its highest expression in the words and example of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

King could hardly open his mouth without stating an American founding ideal, making a religious reference, or offering an inspiring combination of the two. In his first speech at the head of the Montgomery Improvement Association, delivered almost out of the blue, King moved back and forth between the vision of the Bible and the vision of the Constitution, making it clear that for the purposes of the struggle for civil rights, the two visions were essentially one and the same.

For King, the biblical Promised Land was a place where the ideals of the European founders were realized and best described in the language of black spiritualists.

The sacrifices made to realize this vision had an almost sacramental quality. King compared the fire hoses Bull Connor used against civil rights protesters in Birmingham to baptismal waters. For King, it wasn’t just the destination that was sacred; the struggle itself was holy.

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Poll after poll, we see that the majority of Americans see their democracy in crisis. When you see the footage from January 6 and consider the countless ways the votes have been reduced since then, I guess the sentiment is understandable.

But I cannot despair. My family and I are the direct beneficiaries of the greatest sacrifice made by blacks to achieve the American ideal.

I am a resident of the United States due to the Immigration Act of 1965, which allowed non-white immigrants to enter the United States after nearly a century of racial exclusionary immigration policies, started with the Chinese Exclusion Law of 1882. It was passed at the height of the Civil Rights Era, around the same time frame as the Civil Rights Laws of 1964 and 1965, and was truly part of the broader ethic of diverse democracy for which black leaders of the civil rights movement have advocated and sacrificed.

Blacks could easily have called the American project a lie and rejected it. Instead, they chose to view the nation as a broken promise, and they gave their lives to help fix it. We owe the continuity and expansion of American ideals to the community we celebrate on MLK Day and during Black History Month. I owe my life in this country to their work.

I know I can never fully repay this debt. The least I can offer is my deepest appreciation and my most sincere effort. And as we travel in January, I pledge to push our nation further along the arc of the universe, toward the righteousness that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about.

Eboo Patel is founder and president of Interfaith core of youth.

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