Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 5

June 10, 2011

In an interview with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell asked a key question: “Every year, you watch as Martin Luther King is commemorated in the media and otherwise, is there something that we habitually miss in the way we frame this every year when we come back to examining his legacy and what he means to us today?”

Melissa’s response was as simple as it was profound: “The short answer is we miss everything after 1965. In other words, the King that turned to issues of economic justice, of housing, of a push against the war; we have to remember that King. It was not just segregation. It was a full notion of justice.” [1]

Her ‘short answer’ effectively summarizes the overall intent of this article series; the ‘Dr. King’ that most of us will never know. A ‘longer answer’ involves continued analysis of the man and his values. It has been said that when a man is murdered, it’s not just the man himself who dies, but also everything that he could have been. In the special case of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our mourning should be for the loss of so many things that we, as a nation, might have become had he not been assassinated by his own government. [2] A famous community in the Basque region of Spain sets the stage. But, as we’ll see, even the most noble aspirations can be ‘compromised’ by a conflicting set of ‘values’.

“What would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say to Barack Obama?” was the question asked of people who attended the 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Holiday Celebration in San Francisco shortly after Barack Obama was elected President. [3] This is the underlying research question of this article series, with answers derived primarily from Dr. King’s last book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” In chapter 4 of that book, Dr. King says:

“There is a need for a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society. For its very survival’s sake, America must re-examine old presuppositions and release itself from many things that for centuries have been held sacred. For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property- and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power.” [4]

In contrast, it is perhaps redundant to suggest Barack Obama’s Presidency has been a great disappointment from this and many other perspectives. Rarely have we seen such clear opposition between the interests of extreme wealth and the interests of every other life on the planet. According to historian, Alan Brinkley, “the level of partisan division is enormous. It’s been a very long time since we’ve seen that; probably not since prior to the Civil War.” [5] Nearly all of Mr. Obama’s most essential campaign promises have been severely ‘compromised’, if not abandoned altogether. He and his constituents strain to declare ‘victory’ for the Democratic Party, as most of the American population is left out in the cold, millions of them in a very literal sense.

For example, ‘universal healthcare’ became a universal obligation to private insurance corporations. ‘Out of Iraq’ became into Afghanistan and potentially Iran, while thousands of American soldiers return to the United States damaged, homeless and suicidal. ‘Campaign finance reform’ became unlimited campaign spending for wealthy anonymous investors. ‘Wall Street reform’ became tinkering around the edges of a financial system that needs fundamental restructure. Instead of creating new jobs to renew dilapidated American infrastructures, ten-percent unemployment in the United States has become ‘the new five’. Promised repeal of tax-cuts for the rich became a ransom, borrowed from China, to extend unemployment compensation to millions of Americans held hostage by congressional conservatives, who now want to balance the budget with drastic cuts in programs that help the poor.

To facilitate study of more viable alternatives, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included some challenging proposals in an appendix to his last book, ‘Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?’ “A multitude of civil rights programs have been elicited from specialists and scholars”, he said. “To enhance their value and increase support for them, it is necessary that they be discussed and debated among the ordinary people affected by them.”

Dr. King’s views seem perhaps more applicable now, than ever before, as the first black President of the United States leaves Americans of every color to fend for themselves in a deep national crisis of education, employment, rights and housing. In stark contrast, the appendix of Dr. King’s book includes some examples of what he had to say about the most pressing issues of our time. [4] Readers can now view Dr. King’s book in its entirety and even download it if they wish at [11] Perhaps more importantly, this long out-of-print book is finally back in print and is available for purchase online for approximately the same price it originally sold for in 1968. More information about that appears at the end of this article.

As Melissa Harris-Perry suggests, this is where Dr. King moves beyond mere racial ‘segregation’ and begins to look for ways to ‘integrate’ education, employment and housing as fundamental human ‘rights’ within the framework of a more democratically controlled economic system. These aren’t new ideas now, and they weren’t new when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advocated them 40 years ago.

In fact, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt insisted in 1944 that these measures and more should be included in a “Second Bill of Rights, under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all, regardless of station, or race or creed.

“Among these are:

“The right to a useful and remunerative job,

“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation,

“The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.

“The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom; freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

“The right of every family to a decent home.

“The right to adequate medical care, and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accidents and unemployment.

“The right to a good education.

“All of these rights spell security, and after this war is won, we must be prepared to move forward in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being. For unless there is security here at home, there cannot be lasting peace in the world.” [6]

These principles were also nothing new to a Catholic Priest named, Don Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta. By transforming theories into practice and integrating education with employment, it might seem Arizmendi was strides ahead of both Dr. King and FDR. It’s important to note that Don Jose Maria addressed problems at the community level, while Dr. King and FDR were trying to influence a whole nation. But it’s also important to note that the ideas of Don Jose Maria have captured global attention in modern times. His real-world approach to community development is widely recognized as perhaps the most viable way to put legs on Dr. King’s dream and on FDR’s second bill of rights.

In 1941, Don Jose Maria founded a technical school, in the community of Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain. In 1956, five of his students founded a worker-cooperative called, Ulgor. To facilitate cooperative expansion, they created a new, cooperative bank in 1959, called the ‘Caja Laboral Popular’. This sparked the creation of many other mutually supportive community development agencies, and eventually resulted in the world’s largest and most successful worker-cooperative complex.

Now, in a time of global recession, when surrounding Spain suffers the highest unemployment rate in the industrialized world, [7] the unemployment rate in Mondragon remains consistently zero. [10] Moreover, in late 2009, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) formed a collaboration with the United Steelworkers union of North America to create new jobs in the so-called ‘rust belt’ of the United States and Canada. According to Carl Davidson:

“The vision behind the agreement is job creation, but with a new twist. Since government efforts were being stifled by the greed of financial speculators and private capital was more interested in cheap labor abroad, unions will take matters into their own hands, find willing partners, and create jobs themselves, but in sustainable businesses owned by the workers.”

“It starts with a school, a credit union and a shop — all owned by workers who each had an equal share and vote. The three-in-one combination allows the cooperative to rely on its own resources for finance and training.” [8]

The myth that wealthy individuals or government bureaucrats are needed to create new jobs has been debunked in daily practice by the Mondragon Cooperatives for more than 50 years. But the acid test for the Mondragon model is whether it can be transferred successfully from the unique conditions in Mondragon to any other society in the world. Father Greg MacLeod argues that such a transfer is entirely possible, but not without what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls ‘person-centered values’ which characterize the Mondragon system. In his book, ‘From Mondragon To America’, Greg MacLeod explains:

“In North America, credit unions, cooperative and community corporations are all, supposedly, working towards the same goal of community improvement. However, they have not learned the Mondragon lesson of solidarity and cooperation between enterprises. Jack Quarter in his book, ‘The Canadian Social Economy’ points out that community-oriented businesses could have a tremendous power if they would ever decide to work together. However, in most cases they tend to work in isolation. Thus while so many in society are suffering from unemployment and poverty, this sleeping giant of social economic power is neutralized. By contrast, the Mondragon leaders realize the social economic power and they use it.” [9]

What will it take for the people of North America to learn the Mondragon lesson? In 1941, Mondragon was a small village, living mostly in poverty, with no resources and very little industry, under the rule of a ruthless dictator named Francisco Franco. Is this the kind of ‘America’ we must become in order to learn the Mondragon lesson? In what ways can we start now to ‘put legs’ on Dr. King’s dream?

The people of Ithaca, New York, have made commendable strides in this direction by bringing Dr. King’s last book back from the dead. Like Melissa Harris-Perry, the people of Ithaca refused to accept the severely trivialized and marginalized portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is typically painted by those who wish to reduce his ‘dream’ to nothing more than the abolition of racial segregation. Politicians with the power to name a national holiday after Dr. King have done so, not to honor this immeasurable accomplishment, but in an attempt to bury King’s further aspirations toward human equality through the abolition of poverty.

As of 2010, however, after being out-of-print and virtually unavailable for many years, not only is Dr. King’s last book back in print and available for purchase online, but a group of activists have also produced a new discussion guide which states the following:

“The MLK Community Build began with a small group of folks who could not accept that Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? was a book out-of-print. Select chapters of the text were found in anthologies, but the whole book – the one that fulfills the dream and the story – was not readily accessible. The goal of the MLK Community Build was simple: find a way that this particular book, was in print and in use. Where do we go from here? We decide. And as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writes in this book, “we cannot afford to make these choices poorly.”12 Read. Listen. Work. Debate. Collaborate. Whenever we have a choice, build toward community.” [12]

Many thanks to the people of Ithaca for their hard work and dedication, and many thanks to the millions who must eventually join them in building Dr. King’s dream.



Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 1

Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 2

Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 3

Dr. King Spanks Obama: Part 4




[1] O’Donnell, Lawrence. Melissa Harris-Perry. (Jan 17,2011). “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell”. MSNBC.’donnell/52/MSNBC/Monday_January_17_2011/549568/

[2] Douglass, James W. (March 15. 2000). “The King Assassination: After Three Decades, Another Verdict”. Christian Century.

[3] Staff. (February 02, 2009). “What would Dr. King want to say to Barack Obama?”. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute.

[4] King, Dr. Martin Luther (1968). Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos Or Community?. New York, NY: Beacon Press. chapter 4, and appendix. ISBN 0807005711

[5] Brinkley, Alan. (Jan 2011). “Need To Know”. PBS.

[6] Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. (1944). State of the Union Address.

[7] INet Bridge, AFP. (01/29/2011). WAtoday. Business Day.

[8] Davidson, Carl. (Oct. 27, 2009). “US Steelworkers to Experiment with Factor Ownership, Mondragon Style”.

[9] MacLeod, Greg. (1997). “From Mondragon To America”. University College of Cape Bretton Press. pg 51

[10] Lub, Sergio. (Jan 4, 2009). “The Mondragon Cooperatives Experience”. Model Economy.

[11] View or download “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community”.

[12] Bradwell, Dr. Sean Eversley. (2010). “Companion Guide for Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholars Program. Ithaca College.

David Kendall lives in WA and deeply cares about the future of our world.

David Kendall is a regular columnist for Veracity Voice

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