Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King Day 2011

MLK day passed sleepily for us yesterday. We enjoyed a wonderful day at the Seattle Woodland Zoo where many, many parents and children found peace and quiet from their busy, hard-working yet humble lives. I may have seen two children yesterday with skin color indicative of "mixed" marriage.  However, no African-Americans do I remember seeing. But then I don't remember seeing many native-Americans, or Hispanics  (besides my wife), some Asians, some Indo-Europeans perhaps. But largely our day inside the great liberal metropolis of Seattle, like most days in the large and small cities of the Pacific Northwest  was spent browsing amidst a sea of white faces. It does cost $90 for a three person family membership to Seattle Woodland Zoo. After $5.75 for all day parking, the wonderful cafeteria, some trinkets at the two gift stores, $2.00 per carousel ride, gas from Bellingham...You get the picture - even without the  membership purchase, it is still a $50 day for a family of three.  Not exactly working-class priced entertainment.

MLK day was celebrated among my daughter's first grade with exercises on their dreams and aspirations and a 'Scholastic' pamphlet entitled "Dr. King Was Peaceful" is posted with a refrigerator magnet in our house.  "What does it mean?", my six year old daughter asked me. Fortunately, all she really wanted to understand was whether  Martin Luther was a real doctor or not; the concept of a Ph.D in Theology being difficult to differentiate from a medical doctor for a six year old.  Thus, was I spared having to cobble some inadequate adult  summary of the history of racism, slavery, civil rights, civil disobedience, political reform, and social conflict in a capitalist society.  Indeed, one could live their entire lives  in Bellingham or Whatcom County without ever having to think seriously about any of these issues.  Not so for my youth during the 1960s in Oakland, CA. But lets spend some time examining the issues of racial conflict, civil rights, and civil disobedience here  in Whatcom County. Whatcom County now has substantial minority populations. Here's a snapshot from the latest data (2011 Census Statistical abstract):

The Statistics are a bit befuddling since in total there are about 35K non-whites listed in Whatcom County (Bellingham, MSA), but 179K out of 200K are listed as 'White Alone'. (Census data allows for multiple listing of your ethnic origins.) We will go with the non-white totals which show:

Two or more races Hispanic or Latino origin \1
Black or African American alone American Indian, Alaska Native alone Asian alone Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone

2,175 5,999 7,657 350 4,652 14,435

Imagine that we have 14,435 Hispanics and 6,000 American Indians in Whatcom County.  How often in your day in Bellingham do you remember seeing a Hispanic or Native American?  If you answered not often, you would not be alone.  All though many might object to this statement, I think it is clear that Whatcom County "ghettoizes" the most impoverished of its racial populations through reservations and migrant/low wage worker living conditions.  And it surprises me that there isn't more activism on the part of minorities in Whatcom County.  This year,for example, Governor Gregoire has commented:

"The safety net will be stretched thin in some places and eliminated entirely in others," Gregoire said. "For the functions that government no longer will be able to provide, we must turn to neighbors, private charities, faith-based organizations and other local programs. Our communities, more than ever, will be asked to step up."

DSHS funding for the under insured is unquestionably going to take a big hit. When 42th District legislator Vincent Buys and other Republicans ran on the platform of "We don't have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem", I wonder if it occurred to them how many underpaid, under-insured, migrant workers reputedly responsible for harvesting much of Whatcom County's  agricultural crops, would  suffer from low-income health funding cuts? How many native Americans will also suffer from these cuts? How many of the poor in Whatcom County in general will suffer because of lack of adequate health insurance, wages, nutrition, housing?  In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King commented:

"In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

How much more bankrupt today in America is MLK's dream of "the riches of freedom and the security of justice" for Whatcom County minorities?  How much has the promise of the American Dream in Whatcom County  "come back marked 'insufficient funds'"? These are the questions I do not hear being asked much amidst all the celebrations of Dr. King's "peacefulness". As a note, I wonder about the characterizations that found Martin Luther King 'peaceful'. "This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism," the good doctor told us in 1963 with a strident sense of urgency.  How much more applicable is this advice right now? For all of us?

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