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January 17, 2006

A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

January 17, 2006

Shivering For Dr. King

Where politicians meet The People, briefly

Every year, an important part of the official New York State and City of Albany celebration of Martin Luther King takes place practically outside my door. This is the termination point for a short but interesting annual parade that emanates from the Madison Avenue doors of the State Plaza. The procession swings onto South Swan Street and into Lincoln Park, where S. Swan turns into the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard.

On this Boulevard, just short of Morton Avenue is the interesting ML King statue and memorial, probably the most visited monument in Albany. This is the destination of the procession. For once, I got out of the house with a camera by 11:30 AM, which is when the parade leaves Madison. As usual, the temperature was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but at least the sun was shining. (Here are photos of the entire event. Click on the thumbnails to see the full size pictures.)

Late last week, my neighbors watched City DPW employees work to ready the site for the big event, making everything look good. Dr. King gets this special treatment once a year, part of the positive fallout from this event. Those of us who live nearby are grateful for this attention, it would be depressing to see this focal point for City life fall into decay. This speaks well of the local attitude toward the great man.

Not much was going on when I arrived. Several Albany cops watched over the barriers blocking off the Boulevard. The impressive corporate media equipment was all set up, while the corporate media employees hid from the cold inside a bunch of SUV’s off to one side. A few bundled up folks waited for the marchers.

Shivering Cold Politicians
The Politicians

Luci McKnight, the Albany County legislator whose district includes the memorial, greeted me with a hug. She then moved the big wreath to a better position next to Dr. King, as if she owned the place. “I was here early in the morning, polishing the faces on the wall,” she told me. “Don’t they look nice?” These were the brass relief faces behind the statue of Dr. King. They looked nice and shiny, like they used to look.

I asked Luci what she used. “Brass polish and a rag,” she said. I looked up at Dr. King and said, “Luci, you should have brought a ladder and done his head.” She agreed. “Yeah, the pigeons have done a number on old Martin.”

My neighbor Rick showed up, coffee cup in hand, enjoying a day off from the Thruway. He told us, “They preserve the brass statues at Gettysburg with a hot wax that they spray on. Every so often they give them a touch up and polish. It lasts for years.” Hear that, civic leaders? Brass polish is fine for a show and tell, but let’s give Dr. King some preservation before he disintegrates any further.

But suddenly, we could see the marchers winding through the park, first a police car with flashing cherry top, driven by Officer Matt Montesano, his young son beside him. Behind the car three mounted officers broke off from the procession and took up position on the hill behind the memorial, where they remained. Next came the honor guards with their flags, the military, Albany Police and State Troopers.

Shivering Cold Politicians
The People

Then The People arrived. Some made music, some carried banners representing unions and churches, and some held signs demanding health care reform and affordable housing. It’s interesting how this event seems to have integrated protest into the ceremony as part of the proceedings. I’m not sure if having protest co-opted like that is good or not, but it does give the event a soul.

Then, I turned around, and like magic all the politicians were assembled on the memorial. Now, I could be mistaken, but I didn’t see any of them arrive with the marchers. In past years I’ve noticed how most of them park their cars nearby on Morton Avenue and emerge at the same time, not a moment sooner.

I mention this because the corporate media usually gives the impression that the politicians have been marching in solidarity with The People. In the distant past, on the rare warm day, they have done so, but they haven’t marched with The People for quite a while.

Indeed, there was a strange separation between the politicians with their attendant corporate media up on the memorial, and The People down below on the pavement, as can be seen here. From the audience, the line of politicians assembled behind the wall looked like old pictures of the Soviet Politburo reviewing a military parade in Red Square. What an excellent illustration of the gaping distance between the government and the governed.

But at least the leading elements of our society were present and respectful, the government, the corporate media, the military/police, and of course the most important element of all, The People. Us folks. Me and you. All of the representatives of society that were present were at least in nominal agreement about the importance of Dr. King’s life and work.

One other thing everybody agreed upon, it was pretty damn cold. There was more than one grumble about ‘why couldn’t the man have been born in the summer.’ Of course, Dr. King was born in Georgia, where January is probably the time of pleasant weather, or at least it would be for us Northerners. I suppose we could all move to Georgia, but we wouldn’t want to miss out on suffering a little, would we?

One side effect of the cold is that the politicians don’t waste much time talking. This has got to be the only regular public event where our elected officials willingly pass up an opportunity to gabble into microphones.

Mayor Jennings did all the talking. He made the necessary statements, he called for the thirty seconds of silence, he said a few more words, and bam! he was out of there. So was almost everybody else. The crowd almost exploded in a hurry to get somewhere warm.

There were some lingerers, but not many. A few politicians gave brief interviews, but most of the corporate media employees gathered their equipment and scurried like cockroaches. A few hardy folks stayed for a bit to study the wall and the memorial, but that was it.

Shivering Cold Politicians
The Honor Guard

Only the honor guards took their time leaving. They had a procedure to follow, folding the flags. I had the impression that they would have taken their time even if it was raining hail. And of course, the Albany cops had to wait for everyone to leave before they could open the street.

As I said, this is the most visited memorial in Albany. I watch people stop here all time, just for a few minutes, or sometimes on special expedition. The City used to illuminate it at night, but for some mysterious reason they have shut off the lights. Now, this is not to save money, because the City has a contract with the power monopoly for all the nighttime streetlights, so they are paying for lights whether they are on or off.

And, the lights are not bothering the nearby residents. It was a fellow who lives in the red brick building directly across Morton Avenue from the memorial who pointed it out to me. He thinks it’s disrespectful to have the lights off, and I think he’s right. This past December we brought some out of town dinner guests over to the statue at about 6 PM, and we had to use flashlights to read the wall. That’s just not right.

Luci McKnight told me that she likes to come here sometimes and warm the bench when she has a few minutes during the day. “Oh yeah,” she said, “I talk to him. I ask him what he would do.” After a moment, she added, “That’s cause I can’t get a date. Martin is the only guy who will go out with me. But he’s COLD.”

Hear that, guys? A hot lady with a steady government job needs a date. Give her a call.

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