The Martin Luther King Parade, Los Angeles, 2005

My family and I spent several hours yesterday at the corner of St. Andrews Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. We went to join our fellow citizens in celebrating the life and legacy of that boulevard’s namesake; to rejoice in the progress that he has inspired, lo these many years since his brutal murder 37 years ago; to engage in some positive action rather than succumb to the passive discouragement I expect to feel from this week’s other national spectacle. And I returned home bitterly disappointed -not in the buoyant display that was presented in that neighborhood, but in how little support the rest of the City of Angels had to offer the participants and the parade’s organizers.

It’s crushing to observe how rich is the interest and sponsorship for events like Hollywood’s annual Christmas parade and Pasadena’s Rose parade. They get network television coverage, bleacher seating and Everybody Loves Raymond cast members. For his troubles, the late Dr. King got a few local merchants and community groups in late-model sedans, several middle school drum lines, and a flatbed truck advertising Smart & Final BBQ accessories. That, and (of course) a fleet of motorcycle cops poised and ready in case the reverie got out of hand. (For it is written: wherever two or more are gathered in His name…there shall be policemen on motorcycles.)

In the midst of a bitterly contested war on par with Viet Nam, and a blood-letting of the funds for many public programs, can we not as a major city rally more notice and enthusiasm in memory of a man who dedicated his life —and insured his demise—on behalf of peace, justice and basic human dignity?

Of course we can’t. And I was fully ashamed long before I heard that the tab for Bush’s upcoming inaugural festivities would top 40 million dollars. As a nation we apparently have no trouble finding that kind of chump-change when what we’re celebrating is an out-dated, “faith-based,” race-specific nationalism inspired by fear, anger and an insatiable lust for building up our empire and Taking It On the Road. We’ve triumphed over due process, don’t forget, with a mandate and political capitol to spend.

As my son and I squeezed along the crowded sidewalks on Monday, a young black man passed me and muttered under his breath, “If you ain’t black, get off the f**king track.” And who could blame him? As far as he’s concerned, I should just stick closer to my own parade route, distinctly north of this one. After all, it’s been made perfectly clear to him —and long before yesterday—what it really takes to get the rest of America cheering and on its feet.

Joe Henry
South Pasadena, CA
18 January 2005