About 270 people – many from the Occupy Boston community – filled Arlington St. Church’s Hunnewell Chapel to capacity Monday evening to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event featured poetry, song, speeches and group discussion.
Longtime teacher and community activist Mel King stressed that the Occupy Movement carries on the greater human rights struggle to which Dr. King dedicated his life. “You’re on as hallowed a ground as anyone,” he said. “You need to understand that.” Occupy is about the “values of us as a people, our deepest religious beliefs.” Sharing these with our children, he says, is “the most fundamental aspect we have to be about.”
Occupier Brian Kwoba played the audience an excerpt from Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, a speech Dr. King gave exactly one year before his passing.
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” King says. Occupy Boston listeners discussed the text in small groups before bringing thoughts to the group-at-large. Themes of poverty, war, peace and moral courage resonate today more than ever, they agreed. One listener reiterated the importance of this quote: “When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.”
Similarly, hip-hop artist and local schoolteacher Optimus of the Foundation Movement reasoned: “They think peace is soft. Peace is militant.” The rapper asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence. Then he asked for a moment of jubilation; the crowd obliged, smiling and cheering noisily.
Carl Williams gave a teach-in on Massachusetts’ imminent three-strike law. Rather than rehabilitate, teach and forgive those who make poor decisions, Williams maintains, the law will label people and imprison criminals for good, as if they “can’t be fixed.”
Kwame Somburu––activist, organizer and 1968 Vice Presidential candidate for the Socialist Workers Party––said that society should have a “workers government,” rather than a government “of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.” As a moral rule, we “should always be on the side of the victim,” he argues.
Members of Occupy Boston’s People of Color working group discussed ways the movement can work together to draw awareness to elements of oppression and racism still tacitly embedded within our culture. They shared experiences of having felt unwelcome at Dewey Square. Some had considered leaving but, thankfully, came to build strong connections with caring activists. The group encouraged historically privileged ethnic groups to make a sincere and committed effort to reach out to the oppressed.
Activist Brian Browne said that if we root our actions in “genuine love,” we therein root out fear of those who appear different from us. “All of us have the potential to change this world for the better,” he asserted.
Backed by an electric guitarist, New England’s Dream Girls concluded the evening with a song adapted to words written by Mel King. They made him come up on stage to sing. A spirited and truly diverse audience danced and clapped along with the beat––uniting in smiles, laughs and a couple scattered tears.