Martin Luther King
This year: Saturday, January 21, 2017
Martin Luther King, Jr Day - A Day Of Service
It takes a very long time to get anything done in American politics. So, when Martin Luther King, Jr Day was declared a national holiday in 1983, a mere 15 years after the man himself was assassinated, it seemed miracles were possible. If you don't know who Martin Luther King, Jr was and you are over ten years old, hang your head in shame. He's one of the greatest civil rights fighters who ever walked the planet. He protested in non-violent means, patterning himself after the indomitable Mahatma Gandhi. Ironically, both were shot by lunatics. But, both spent the best part of their lives helping millions of people get equal rights.
When the first Martin Luther King, Jr Day (more commonly called MLK Day) was held, it was the third Monday in January. That year it actually fell on MLK's real birthday of January 15. I was very ill with a cold and so the day off of school just passed right by me. A whole generation had never had a new national holiday before, where nearly everything except the emergency services and retail stores were closed. People had no idea what to do, except watch a documentary on the great man on television.
In the twenty five years or so of this new holiday, the foundations for promising national traditions have been laid. Most national holidays in the United States are about getting something - presents (Christmas) and candy (Halloween). MLK Day is turning very determinedly to being a national day of giving. Many schools and businesses spend the day doing charitable work. They clean up parks, paint walls over graffitied walls, or build homes for Habitat for Humanity. As an American, it is gratifying to see that advertisers are continuing to leave this holiday alone. No massive MLK Day sales, thankfully. No computer animated Martin Luther King, Jr. saying, "I have a dream...of a brand new car!!!" In comparison with Columbus Day or even President's Day, MLK Day has more significance and sanctity than almost any holiday on the calendar. Martin Luther King, Jr. has as much impact on Americans today as he did in the 1960's. Unlike most of the other people holidays are about, there are videotapes, recordings and eyewitness accounts of the man and his self-sacrificing work.
What better way to honor the man who spent his life trying to help his fellow Americans than to get off your butt and do something nice for your fellow Americans. The government especially supports this holiday, as they hope to eventually stop funding to charitable services altogether and let private companies take care of it. American government is an equal-opportunity ignorer. If Martin Luther King, Jr taught Americans anything, it was that you cannot wait for government to do the right thing. It is not in the government's interest to change a darn thing. You have to go and make those changes yourself and drag the government with you.
This is not a sad view of life in America. On the contrary, it can give a sense of empowerment that you can do something about social change.