I watched the Hope for Haiti telethon the other night.
The funds will go to rebuild schools . . .
Rebuild the commercial buildings destroyed due to neglect and poor building standards . . .
Rebuild the commercial buildings destroyed due to neglect and poor building standards . . .
So many have died in these ruins . . .
Tens of thousands of homes sit abandoned, in unlivable condition . . .
Tens of thousands of homes sit abandoned, in unlivable condition . . .
Thank You for your efforts on behalf of the afflicted in Haiti.
What about us?
ps. All images taken inside the city limits of Detroit, Michigan.
Last week, in light of the stunning loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, I pointed out the two forks in the road for Democrats in general and President Obama, specifically.
The left fork led them down the path of Progressive politics, which is the platform he, and they, ran on during the historic 2008 election. This would have them focusing on Job creation through domestic infrastructure improvements, a 6 month moratorium on foreclosures, creation of a federal loan modification agency, launching investigations into how and who crashed the financial system in 2008, tearing up the Health Insurance bill and forcing through a Health Care bill that covers every American, and embracing direct government lending to small businesses to get the economy rolling.
Exit polling from Massachusetts showed voters were displeased with the President and Democrats because they were not being Progressive enough, not because of spending.
This seems like a lot, but President Lyndon Johnson did more, and in less time.
The other, right, fork led down the path pocked with the footsteps of Bill Clinton. This fork led to governing from under the desk in the Oval Office, embracing the ideology of the Right in hopes of squelching the criticism from the Conservative media.
President Obama, as I thought he would, has take his first, Jesse Owens-sized leap down the path on the right.
In announcing a $400+ billion DOMESTIC spending cut, President Obama has embraced the three-headed dragon of Conservative policy. And resoundingly so. The Conservative credenda requires:
- Cutting government spending on Americans. It is so easy to call it "domestic," but in fact, all things domestic have to do with Americans. The "Domestic Spending" argument from the Right has been code language for "Americans have too many services," though we rank nearly last among our Western counterparts in nearly every category.
- Not touching Defense Spending. This is important for the right because this is where they all go to die, or retire, or go after they retire from politics. The privatized militias and defense contractors are all run by, not just Republicans, but hyper-Neo Conservative Republicans, the Rightest of the Right. There is never, EVER any fat to be skimmed away from this part of the budget, though it comprises nearly 50% of the entire Federal expenditure each year. Obama chose to leave these in the category of "hands off" in his cutting.
- Balancing the Budget. This is the most oft-repeated phrase you will hear from the Right. the problem is, they do not believe in it, do not pursue it when in power and only make it a platform when they are thrown out of office after going on spending sprees that would make Imelda Marcos blush. Ronald Reagan, the deity himself, said (while he was in office, of course) "deficits don't matter." This of course while he was busy spending more money than all 6 Presidents before him, including some on illegal weapons deals that were part of Iran-Contra. George W. Bush put the country in a debt box from which the country could not possibly emerge, but now, after 8 years of silence while putting the tab for two wars off the books, it's time to balance the budget. The purpose of the Domestic cuts by President Obama is to meet this measure.
So he's running to the Right, and, barring a shocking, 180 degree directional shift during his State of the Union speech, look for Democrats to fall in lock-step.
I wondered what he would be able to say from the pulpit on Wednesday night, with his first year being so full of fluff ("concerns, conviction . . .the emotional kind, sympathizing and being clear") and dander (Heath Care? Murder at a yet-to-be-closed Gitmo? Afghanistan? Pakistan drone escalation? Iraq continues? No Climate legislation? No Green Jobs? Bonus Scandals? Resurgence of the opposition party? 10% Unemployment? Failed Mortgage Relief programs? Monster Banks? Bankrupt Municipalities? Massive Trade Deficits? Blanket Immunity for CIA? Prosecuting Whistle-blowers? Loss of 2 Governors and Ted Kennedy's Senate Seat? Rise of the Tea-Baggers?)? I guess the answer comes in the form of this announcement.
While watching the speech on Wednesday, expect the Democrats to give standing ovations for nearly everything the President says. And though the last time he spoke to Congress he was called a "liar" mid-speech, when President Obama announces the Domestic Spending Freeze, expect the Republicans to get out of their chairs to take their two hands off the neck of Congressional legislative pipeline, and applaud this "Right" kind of populism.
This coming Wednesday, January 27, 2010, at approximately 8pm EST, President Obama will stand at a podium to deliver his 1st State of the Union Speech to the nation. The irony of the timing could not be more pronounced.
For on that very day another address will probably steal the the President's thunder. Steve Jobs is expected to use his highly-anticipated early afternoon talk to unveil the latest in a string of innovative, revolutionary Apple products, the iTablet, which will dominate the consumer electronic category, breathing life into a dormant economy. . . which is a bit more than anyone expects will come from the pulpit in the evening.
But back to the President and his speech.
The State of the Union proceedings are full of customs, with attendance, seating arrangements and even the first line of the President's speech, already laid out. And therein lies the rub.
This will perhaps be the most uncomfortable State of the Union in our nations history. Since the State of the Union was not read aloud by a President from 1801 to 1923, instead being delivered in written text to Congress, there was no SOTU address preceding the Civil War, which would have been the only time I can imagine being as uncomfortable.
The problem is not in what the President will say after all the formalities are covered, it's everything up to that point.
The President has to stand in front of a seated Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Joe Biden. While Biden remains a fairly popular figure with the public, he has, much to everyone's surprise, been pushed far into the background during this first year of the Obama Administration. Speaker Pelosi,on the other hand, has one of the lowest public approval ratings of any person to hold that position. And she is the person who must call the chamber to order.
Next, we must then consider that both the entire House and Senate will be seated before the President. This at a time when these members Congress are under attack (rightfully) by members of their own party.
Democrats are only now awakening to the wrath of the Progressive members of the party, who are seizing on the loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts this week, to redirect their political contributions and assail the parties actions over the past 12 months in print and in the blogosphere.
Republicans are grappling with how to appease the Teabagger element of it's party, who have already won seats in the Senate and Governors mansions across the country, by running it's candidates against other Republicans.
Congress, as a whole, is polling far worse than even Speaker Pelosi.
Seated in front of the Congress will be members of the Presidential Cabinet. Among their number will be the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The public dismay with two costly and increasingly deadly wars (one of which we just escalated), allegations of murder at Gitmo, military contractor misconduct (some criminal), ballooning budgets (46% of the total national budget) and the increasingly shocking revelations about CIA actions in regard to secretly run black sites still being run around the globe, have a growing chorus calling for the President to relieve Secretary Gates of his duty, in an effort to seek a needed new direction on these fronts.
And then there are the members of the very first row, the Justices of the Supreme Court. After Thursday's ruling in favor of granting 1st Amendment Rights to corporations, this will be the first time in the television era where these nine men and women will be more than "the people people in black." Without getting into the details of the decision itself, the public outcry over the ruling has been rancorous and, with each day giving understanding of it's impact, fearful.
Then there's President Obama, who has spent a year throwing away nearly every bit of the enormous political capital he was swept into office with in his efforts to "make friends" with legislators who have: questioned his citizenship, distributed political fliers with racist themes about himself and members of his family, called him a liar ON THE FLOOR OF CONGRESS ON NATIONAL TELEVISION, refused Cabinet positions he has offered, stalled every piece of legislation he has asked for from the Congress and spent the summer starting and stoking fears of his creating "Death panels" that would kill their family members.
In the 1st year in office, no President has ever seen a larger drop in the public approval rating. Made more remarkable because, no President in the modern era has ever entered the Oval Office with higher approval ratings than Barrack Obama.
President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Health Care reform that became the Health Insurance reform Bill, is hugely unpopular and has still not reached his desk. This despite the President setting a deadline of early-August 2009, then October, then Christmas and lastly, before his State of the Union speech.
With Congress, at the President's direction, working on appeasing the minority opposition party, every other piece of important legislation had to be tabled in an effort to "get things done" on Health Care. And things have not "got done."
So it is in this environment, with the specter of; 10.5% (officially, though some estimates are now at 18.9%) Unemployment, Wall Street Holding the country's credit system hostage, record foreclosure, record evictions, municipal and state governments cutting back on critical services due to financial struggles (to the point of California holding a state-run garage sale) and withering American industries, from automobiles to insurance to retailers, hanging over his head, the President is required by protocol, to deliver this as the first line of his speech:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the State of the Union is strong."
Regardless of how eloquent or soaring the speech is from that point, this requirement will seem detached from the realities for many in the country, and make for a most uncomfortable moment.
As a 17 year-old, I can distinctly remember sitting in the cinema, watching the curtains part (they used to do that, you know) and escaping into the fantastical world of RoboCop for two hours.
At the time, RoboCop was one of my favorite movies, and though I have only seen the original one time, it was such a visceral experience, I still maintain almost complete recall of it's story.
In those younger days of mine, the takeaway from the movie was an awesome, kick ass police officer who, when challenged, BLEW SHIT UP! Bank shots off metal plates to save a witness, bionic arm smacks that sent bad guys 200 feet into the air and an internal laser-sight, which allowed for perfect targeting with each shot. I was a teenage boy, and nothing could have been a better source of escape than an invulnerable half-human super robot crime-fighter. Pathetic, eh?
Now I am much older and have not thought of the movie for years. Yet, yesterday, upon hearing the Supreme Court decision ruling in favor of corporations being granted 1st amendment rights, right after thinking, "OH MY GOD, NO!," my thoughts travelled back to RoboCop, only from a different perspective.
I thought about the corporation in the film, Omni Consumer Products, and how the Mayor of Detroit (where the corporation is located) was, literally, always at their headquarters. In every scene where the CEO of OCP needed to speak to the Mayor, he would take an elevator, walk into another room, or just spin around in his chair and, abracadabra, there he was.
Additionally, the Mayor of Detroit not only does exactly what the CEO of Omni Consumer Products tells him, when in trouble, he actually seeks council from the company as well.
This, in my younger years, slipped by me as outlandish and impossible. Chief Justice Roberts and four other Justices just made this, not a probability, but an eventuality.
In giving corporations the legal right to directly finance political campaigns, much like the life of Jesus of Nazareth, life in America can henceforth be known as B.D. (before decision) and A.D. (after decision).
If you feel this is an overreach, here are 10 questions you need to ask yourself before telling me I am crazy.
10. Walmart will chart $405,300,000,000 (that's Billion!) in sales by the time the fiscal year comes to a close at the end of this month. That's $1.2 billion a day, $50.5 million an hour (on a 24 hr sched.) and $842,070 per minute.
The maximum allowable donation an individual can give a candidate is $2300 per election contest (you can give $2300 for primary, then another $2300 for a General).
Walmart makes $2300 every 0.17 of a SECOND (as in $14,030 per full second).
For a person making $75,000 per year, this is the equivalent of donating ONE PENNY of your salary each year.
How do you think any individual, or group of donors, will be able to compete with that?
9. The hardest thing to do for any political candidate, is getting a crowd together. That is why President Obama's run for the White House was so amazing. His ability to pull in crowds, was the main reason media could not overlook his candidacy. Same with all the (wrong-headed) "buzz" about Sarah Palin's book tour.
If the company you are working at calls a "meeting" at which a political candidate is going to speak, what percentage of the people who work in your office are going to be no-shows? EXACTLY!
8. What will stop corporations from getting a bailout every time they have a poor quarter?
7. Since it is now legal to directly finance elections, what will stop your company from sending you, or hiring a workforce, to distribute campaign literature, knock on doors, drive people to the polls and work the phones, on behalf of their candidate?
6. What is to stop companies from REQUIRING you have a Voter Registration Card as a condition of employment?
5. What is to stop corporations from using their candidates to overturn all the workplaces freedoms we currently take for granted? Sick pay, vacation, cost of living raises, medical benefits, privacy of our records (medical, education and employment), the ability to seek arbitration, severance packages, maternity leave, OSHA standards, workday limits and workplace injuries come to mind.
4. What is to stop, say, Microsoft from getting their legislators to change Eminent Domain laws, then removing every resident from the south side of Chicago, so they can the land cheaply, build a new campus for headquarters, all in the name of "civic beautification?"
3. Is not disposing of toxic materials in the air, water and soil illegal ONLY BECAUSE THE LAW SAYS IT IS? Change the laws and it is no longer illegal, and all you need to change the laws are new legislators.
2. Since all corporations are essentially multi-national now (most certainly the biggest and most powerful are), how can we deny the immediate impact of foreign influence on our political system AND LAWS?
Sony (Japan) says only it's eReader will be allowed in public universities, CitiBank (Saudi Arabia) says only it's credit cards are allowed for LINK payments, Mercedes (Germany) school buses are required in all districts and Nestle (Switzerland) products will be the only approved products for school lunch programs. All mere examples of the limitless possibilities in the offing.
1. Why would your "representative" EVER answer the phone, shake hands or answer your email?
This ruling will make raising money from individuals unnecessary. I foresee, in the very near future, that much like the charitable drives that have invaded the workplace (ie Susan Komen walk and United Way drives), your political contributions will be "suggested" to be done through your place of work.
"Jim Wilson is going to keep our plant open, and he got that government contract for us. You WERE going to give him that money, correct? Why not just write the check out here?"
These are only a few of the most rudimentary questions for those of you, Republican or Democrat, to ask yourself.
- Why the need for social services? Why would a company want to fire you, then pay for you to "do nothing?"
- Why fund schools with government money? This has been in the cards for years. It can be a reality now.
- Why allow the Internet to remain a place where ideas (dissent) can be exchanged?
- Why not make it harder (impossible) for people to change jobs by claiming humans (and all their accumulated knowledge) as intellectual property? This is already slowly working it's way up the courts.
- How can there ever be a reform of any industry when the industries are writing the law?
Here in America, the most progressive of us have long wanted a third party, so as to check the Democrats and Republicans on their back and forth shafting of the taxpayers.
Unfortunately, through the 5-4 decision of the Court, we have just witnessed the birth of that 3rd party. Which in a matter of a few short years, will be the dominant force in American politics . . . and our daily lives.
I have noticed two prominent Republicans, John McCain and Olympia Snowe, out on the stump decrying the actions of this court. They are both two politicians who are on their way out the door and are looking for "legacy points."
When the chips were on the table, at confirmation time for Justices Alito and Roberts, let us see how these two pillars voted (click for enlargement).
President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel infamously stated, "there is no need to worry about the left." He was talking, of course, about the deafening screams coming from the ordinary citizens who call themselves Democrats, each time a piece of the Healthcare Bill was stripped away to make Republicans happy.
His thinking was, what are Democrats going to do? Vote for a Republican? Stay home and not vote?
Well now that the seat of the most famous Senator on the issue of Healthcare, Democratic Icon Ted Kennedy, has gone to a Republican in today's election, that question has been answered resoundingly in the AFFIRMATIVE!
Make no mistake about it, this is a smack in the face of the Democratic Congress and their overly-mollifying leader, President Obama, of stratospheric proportions. A Republican holding the Senate Seat that was held by Ted Kennedy for over 4 decades, inherited from his brother, Jack, upon taking the Office of the Presidency, is akin to Israel electing a Palestinian to the Presidency. I am not kidding about that either, Massachusetts is on fire tonight.
This election result is that devastating.
A rapid switch to bullying position, with a series of 15 minute prime-time press conferences to explain why he has abandoned his courtship of the do-nothing, stall-everything Republican members of the Congress, and is now forging ahead, with the full support of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, on a broad and immediate Progressive Agenda.
So now what? There are two roads. I will discuss the least (nearly impossible) likely first.
President Obama could fire the Republican-lite Emanuel as Chief of Staff. Since the COS decides who sees the President and sets the Administration's Agenda, anything other than the resignation of Emanuel will signal a "Stay-the-Course" policy. With new blood in the Office, Obama would gain access to the many (and growing) voices from around the country that been grotesquely disappointed by the President's inaction on many fronts thus far, from jobs to healthcare.
- Create jobs overnight with the stimulus funds still in the bank.
- End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the Armed Forces.
- Close Gitmo.
- Redirect money and resources from the two War theaters to Haitian relief efforts.
- Open investigations into those responsible for the collapse of the entire world's Financial system.
- Ask members of Congress to stay in town until a new, single-payer healthcare bill is passed, and make said bill effective in January 1, 2011, not 2013, as the current bill calls for.
- Place a national moratorium on all foreclosure action for 6 months, while your team puts in place a Federally-run mortgage re-negotiation network.
This would cause his (and Congress's) poll numbers to plummet in the short term, as, while many Americans expected such actions after his election in 2008, many are wary of such overt strong-arming these days. But as more Americans start to see jobs return to their communities, neighbors start to share stories of mortgage relief, news reports start to show arrests of those few financially malevolent persons on Wall Street and health clinics begin to reopen in communities across the country, those concerns will give way to broad, firm support for the President's actions.
This, of course, will not happen.
What will happen is, the President will go the route of William Jefferson Clinton, and start to govern EVEN MORE to the Right, as a political survival tool.
When Clinton lost the midterms in 1994, he ran to the Right with warp speed. In his haste to please Republican legislators in the run-up to the 1996 Presidential election, Clinton gutted the "socially irresponsible" Welfare program, decreased unemployment benefits and gave employers the go-ahead to reduce COBRA benefits by two months. The coup-de-grace was his signing into law, the Financial Modernization Act, which was the origin of the Financial collapse of 2008 and, conversely, made each of those reductions in the societal safety net all the more devastating, as more Americans were in need of a helping hand than any time in the last 60 years.
I have already suggested President Obama as Carol Mosley Braun, the last "promising" Senator from Illinois who squandered their national spotlight, only to be roundly defeated in a re-election bid. The threat of Obama irrelevancy is real: President's that serve one term are not the stuff of legend. Just ask Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. What he does to get a second term, which is now certainly threatened, must be closely watched.
The decisions by Clinton were not just awful, they were dangerous. Fortunately, they were amidst the backdrop of an America in the primacy of of it's financial heft. Should this President choose to go down the same path, which seems likely, the consequences will be incalculable.
So Pat Robertson says that:
"Haitians freed themselves in the 1700's by making a pact with the Devil, who subsequently helped them defeat the French." And since then (due to the "pact"), have been cursed by one disaster after another."
Well here is the real history of the time period Reverend Pat is talking about.
In the late 18th century, Haiti's Black native population was almost entirely enslaved, though a few were free land-holders. The overwhelming majority of the island was in possession of France, followed by Great Britain, then Spain.
A former slave by the name of Toussaint L'ouverture, who up until 1793 considered himself a French Loyalist, joined the Spanish armed forces in Haiti, because he saw the Spaniards as being the group most likely to free ALL the Island's slaves.
By the end of the year, slavery in all the Spanish territories was abolished. And when Britain sent thousands of reinforcements to the island to protect their "business interests," Haitian emancipation was forcibly put down in every territory the troops took back.
Choosing to hide and rethink his former strategy, L'ouverture was able to, in a few months, organize nearly all the islands 3,800,000 former slaves into a militia. Yes, he was uneducated and lacked an understanding of military strategy, but, as the saying goes, they had more on the line than the opposing forces.
L'ouverture started by routing the Spanish, his former allies, as he saw them as being willing to renegotiate the articles of emancipation, in an effort to keep a part of the Haiti in Spanish hands.
The Spanish defeat was swift and thorough. Within 11 months the Spaniards would lose control of over 85% of their former holdings and spend the following 9 months buying time for rescue ships to pick up the remaining infantrymen, who were allowed to live in peace during their wait, as long they did not pick up arms again.
Next, in 1795, after subduing the Spanish battalions, L'ouverture and his army turned to fight the British. While the ultimate victory over the British army would come, officially, in 1798, the Haitians would need only 13 months to beat back the Brits to the ocean. There were few, if any, British fighting forces anywhere on the island, save a few coastal towns, after 1796.
In 1801, after the Spanish formally surrendered their remaining interests in the island, L'ouveture announced a new Constitution for Haiti. In summation the Constitution:
- Abolished Slavery
- Made Him Governor of the Haiti for the rest of his life
- MADE ROMAN CATHOLICISM THE OFFICIAL RELIGION
Yes, Pat. you read that correctly. Within the founding document of the newly-free Haiti, are articles making the State religion, CATHOLICISM! And TO THIS DAY, 80% of all Haitians consider themselves CATHOLIC.
No voodoo. No devil. No talismans. No blood rituals.
They went to Sunday Mass, celebrated Easter and Christmas, built churches and sent to Rome for members of the clergy. And still do!
There was no "pact with the devil." However there was a "pact" with a young nation by the name of the United States of America.
You see, Pat. One of the Founding Fathers had grown up in the Caribbean Islands. Alexander Hamilton had vivid memories of watching slaves beaten half to death, or crushed and burned in the sugar cane mills that worked around the clock to sate Europe's insatiable appetite for the sweet substance.
His horrific memories of those younger days translated, in 1799, to Hamilton supporting a Trade Agreement between the United States and Haiti. Hamilton, at the time, was the highest ranking economic figure in America, so his support was the difference. The agreement, Hamilton understood, was a crucial first step for a newly-formed country, as he had been part of the diplomatic effort to secure trade just 10 years prior for the brand new U.S. This, and a similar agreement with the British, proved to Haiti's dominant source in it's quest to become economically empowered.
Unfortunately, the Agreement between the countries would be nullified in 1801, with the ascension of a slave-owning member of the Southern Planter -Class, Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton's biggest political rival (at the time. Of course, in time Aaron Burr would come to define "political rivalry."), to the Presidency. The idea of Black self-governance was just too beyond the pale for my distant ancestor to be able to come to grips with.
In the end, Napoleon would mount a furious attack on the island in 1802, and his troops successfully captured L'ouveture. Though, instead of killing the Haitian leader and inflaming the passions of the island's 4 million plus inhabitants, Napoleon suffered him exile.
This would prove disastrous, because with knowledge of L'ouveture being alive, there were frequent uprisings against the French troops and officials living in Haiti.
With France already in terrible economic shape from the infamous Revolution which had ended only a few years before, and with brewing plans for war with Great Britain, Napoleon had few avenues available to him for the purpose of raising the funds needed to raise, outfit, train, ship and pay the number of troops necessary to secure Haiti from insurrection, properly.
As a matter of fact, he had exactly one option in his pocket, so he reached for it.
Napoleon would, in the Autumn of 1802, instruct his Treasury Minister to raise funds by selling off their "useless" western holdings. The "western holdings" sale was finalized in the Spring of 1803.
History, correctly, never refers to it as the "western holdings" sale. Generally it is referred to as "The Louisiana Purchase," which more than doubled the size of the United States and abolished from our lands, the greatest foreign threat to our young nation, thus allowing the U.S. to grow in peace.
That is what I think of, Reverend Pat, when I think of Haiti.
So if you want to take your ball and go home because this particular poor country has not allowed your 'ministries" to make significant inroads with the population, that's fine. Just try not to call a country chockfull of fellow Christians, "heathens" on the way out.
When John Conyers put forth legislation to commemorate the birth date of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday in 1979, he felt the universally high esteem with which the late Reverend was held would translate to easy passage of the bill. Instead what he got was a dose of reality, in the person of several Congressmen from southern states stonewalling his attempts behind the scenes and on the House floor.
Despite his efforts, the bill would fail passage by 5 votes.
On October 10, 1980, the King Center was granted National Historic Site status by the United States Government. The King Family and the Trustees of the Center used the new designation to wage a furious public relations campaign, targeting the public and private corporations, to engender support for the bill.
Just as the King Center got it's campaign underway, the consortium of southern Congressmen got a new ally in their fight, in the person of the recently-retired U.S. Navy officer, newly elected as Representative for the 1st District of Arizona, John McCain.
Rep. McCain's opposition for the King legislation cannot be overstated, as his coming on board gave the regionally-isolated southerner's argument in the negative, cache. This, much like the Olympia Snowe "bipartisan" health care vote, could now be called "national," not regional, opposition.
Not to be outdone, the King Center countered the move with a new recruit of its own.
In 1981, after getting word of the actions taking place in Congress, and making a confirmation phone call to Dr. King' widow, Coretta Scott King, an artist decided he would not got to sleep until he had come up with a way to support the effort. Stevie Wonder would, in the process of 3 days, write, produce and record the song "Happy Birthday."
The song was crafted as equal parts honorarium and protest, to those that would choose to oppose recognition of a man, Dr. King, who had literally given his life in the effort to bring justice to all those experiencing injustice.
The song was made with no financial consideration, as Wonder literally gave away tens of thousands of copies, but instead purely to get the public behind the movement to break the congressional stalemate. Few people know this to be the reason for the song never being a Billboard chart-topper. Though in London, where the record was exclusively sold (Brits can't vote in the U.S.), the record would rocket to #2 on the charts, and stay there for 5 weeks.
Across the America, while Wonder's "Happy Birthday" was receiving heavy radio rotation, workers canvassed neighborhoods to collect signatures from voters in support of the King holiday. I can recall watching my teacher at Nettlehorst Elementary signing her name on the petition as we were filing into my 6th grade music class.
Mrs. Burns' signature would be joined by another 6,000,000 others, eventually becoming the single most successful (in terms of verifiable signatures) petition campaign in United States history.
By 1982, with the overwhelming majority of Americans in support, the bill would be reintroduced in Congress, pass both Houses easily, and, by late-1983, find it's way to the President's desk.
On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan, who reversed his staunch opposition in the face of the bill's wide-ranging public support, signed the bill to make Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day a National Federal Holiday, beginning in January 1986.
I wish that were the end of our story, but it ain't.
South Carolina and Arizona refused to recognize the holiday in their states. The latter's Governor, Evan Mechem, with the full-throated support of Representative McCain, leading a well-documented national media campaign to not just refuse to observe the King holiday, but call for other states to join Arizona's stance in snubbing the Civil Rights leader.
It would take 14 years for the two states to join rest of civilization (and the country) in their observation of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. That same year Utah, a state founded by a man, Joseph Smith Jr., who founded Mormonism, which precluded people of African descent from entering heaven (under ANY circumstance), would officially recognize "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day." For the prior fourteen years it had been known, exclusively in the state of Utah, as "Human Rights Day."
2000 would also bring about the official adoption of "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day" in the great state of Virginia. From 1986 until then, the state had, UNBELIEVABLY, chosen the third Monday of January to celebrate, in this order, "Lee-Jackson-King Day." If those names sound familiar, it's because they are familiar.
Robert Edward Lee and Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson were the two most prominent Generals in the army of the secessionist Southern States in the Civil War. The idea of honoring Dr. King was considered politically untenable in Virginia, so they chose to include these two people who had only a January birth date in common with the man the rest of the nation was choosing to honor at the same time.
So this January, as the nation prepares to honor the memory of a man whose life's work was so much more than the "I Have A Dream" speech, we stand united as a country in saying the work he laid as foundation for our society was relevant, important and worthy of application.
The night before he died, while speaking to a group of striking sanitation (sic. garbage) workers, Dr. King said the following:
"Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation."Is that not the least possible debt we owe? To carry the torch he brought so far along that difficult road for the betterment of us all? I think so as well.
The "I've Been to the Mountaintop" Speech, in it's entirety: