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January 21, 2008


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.

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January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King From Another Perspective

Instead of waiting for the marchers, the blogger sits through blather and strolls through the park

Last year’s march in honor of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King was canceled due to inclement weather. What a bunch of wusses. I was out there in the freezing rain. Two years ago I chronicled the ceremony at Dr. King’s statue in Lincoln Park, so this year I decided to try something different.

Dr. King Arrested For Loitering, 1958
Dr. King Arrested For Loitering, 1958

I got out of bed bright and early this last Monday holiday morning and hauled butt through the chilly sunshine down to the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. This is the dark, cavernous auditorium squatting underneath The Egg. I hadn’t gone there for quite a while, I’d forgotten how the place was disorienting, disturbing and plain uncomfortable.

First thing I noticed going inside was the lack of a security search and seizure checkpoint at the door. Today would have been a great opportunity for some terrorist to take out much of the the top echelons of both the State and City of Albany governments with one round of explosives. But people were allowed to stroll on in as if the Fourth Amendment were still in effect, I guess out of regard for Dr. King.

Not that there weren’t plenty of State Troopers. I started to settle into a small metal folding chair down on the main floor respectfully back a few rows when one of these characters in a smokey hat suddenly got in my face. He leaned forward aggressively and stared at me like he wanted an excuse to start something. “Sir, you can’t sit here.” He tensed, ready to strike.

“Um, ok,” I said. “Can I sit over there?”

His tone was sarcastic. “You can sit in any seat that doesn’t have a piece of paper taped to the back.” There were, of course, no pieces of paper taped to the backs of any seats. He stared menacingly until I picked up my coat, then he turned and strode off like he had deflowered me.

Eliot Spitzer Under The Egg
Eliot Spitzer Under The Egg

I guess this goof was one of those old Capitol Police, the bottom tier cops that the former governor magically transformed into State Troopers. It’s scary how the authorities so readily give such dingdongs powers of arrest and a license to kill.

The hall never really filled up, and I found out why. What followed was a parade of politicians telling us how much government has promoted diversity and equal opportunity. Governor Eliot Spitzer was the star, naturally. He was introduced by Lt. Governor David Patterson, who had to be present because he is, as you may recall, an actual person of color. He received the loudest applause.

At this point came the best part of the program, the Albany High School Gospel Ensemble. These kids sounded great, an excellent argument in favor of continued funding of after-school programs.

Albany High School Gospel Ensemble
Albany High School Gospel Ensemble

There was tepid applause and a few boos and hisses for Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who introduced the keynote speaker, Kumiki Gibson, Commissioner of the NY State Division of Human Rights.

Ms. Gibson started off good, declaring that black citizens who had succeeded “were the exception, not the rule... the fact is that New York State has some of the most segregated communities in this country.” But she went downhill fast, ticking off the list of oh so tremendous accomplishments that the administration of her boss, Governor Spitzer, has made in the sphere of justice and equality.

Albany High School Gospel Ensemble
Kumiki Gibson Speaking

And then, to my utter astonishment, Ms. Gibson did an Obama. She reached down deep into an unflushed toilet and fished up a quote from Ronald Reagan, apparently in praise of Dr. King.

At about that point I was all ready to climb up on that podium, push Ms. Gibson aside and give my own speech, the one I want to hear somebody give someday. Here’s the sort of thing I might have said:

“Martin Luther King was a revolutionary! He confronted and defied these very same mealy mouthed politicians you have witnessed here today. Like certain hate-filled money grubbing Christians who claim to honor Jesus of Nazareth, who walked in poverty and taught peace, these status quo exclusionary public officials would have you believe that they are heirs to the legacy of Dr. King.

“He accomplished what he accomplished by breaking the rules, by actions that our current politicians, in their extreme lack of wisdom, today are calling “terrorism.” But the rules Dr. King broke by his actions were not the rules that govern and regulate individuals in a fair society. These were alien rules designed to oppress and exploit, the codification of the misuse of force, the legal fist that strikes the illegal face.

“His law was the law of higher justice, that which does not tolerate inequality. If you truly want to honor and follow Dr. King, then stand up while you still can, defy these very same authorities who feed off of his good name like blood gorged parasites, puffing themselves up with his legacy until they are ready to burst and drown us in their filth.”

And that’s not all. I’d have more fine things to say:

Reagan Hated Dr. King
Reagan Hated Dr. King

“As for you Ms. Gibson, who has invoked the evil name of Ronald Reagan, I call on you to read your history. Reagan repeatedly and publicly called Dr. King a “communist,” which you will recall is the old fashioned word for “terrorist.” In 1988, old slick Ronnie vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which extended certain civil rights to private institutions receiving federal funds. But we had a real Congress back then, which overrode his veto.

“And Reagan fought hard to prevent this very day from being declared a national holiday. Only after Congress passed the legislation by a veto-proof majority did Ronnie sign the legislation, and provide the feel-good quote you uttered today. Unlike today, the fool in the White House occasionally had to make concessions to reality.”

It’s a good thing I didn’t pull this stunt. I figure I might have made it to the end of the second sentence before that goof with the smokey hat would have tackled me and violated me with a deadly taser.

Corey Ellis At The South Concourse
Corey Ellis At The South Concourse

I’d had enough. I wandered across the underground plaza to the South Concourse by the State Museum to wait for the march to commence. I chatted with 3rd Ward Common Council member Corey Ellis, who had also had enough of the program.

“Dr. King was not peaceful,” said Mr. Ellis, almost angry. “He was nonviolent.”

The man was not impressed by the list of Eliot Spitzer’s supposed accomplishments. “I haven’t seen any improvement in hiring practices. Now, I’ve been hired for every single job that I’ve ever applied for,” Mr. Ellis stated as a matter of fact. “Once you get your foot in the door, it’s up to you to sell yourself. And I know how to do that.

“But the problem is how to get in the door. I ask these department heads, ‘Where are the people of color?’ And they say, ‘Oh we did a search, and this is who applied for the jobs.’ Where are they looking? Is it that hard to do a search?”

“They must be looking in “all the right places,” I suggested.

It looked like the program was over, people and politicians streamed past, gathering up by the glass doors. The Mayor strolled by holding a cell phone to his head. After a bit the doors opened and the crowd plunged into cold sunshine.

Cold Politicians: Common Council President Shawn Morris Flanked By Congressional Candidate Phil Steck And Almost Candidate Tracey Brooks, With Assembly Member Bob Reilly and Albany City Judge Helena Heath-Roland
Cold Politicians: Common Council President Shawn Morris Flanked By Congressional Candidate Phil Steck And Almost Candidate Tracey Brooks, With Assembly Member Bob Reilly and Albany City Judge Helena Heath-Roland

I trotted alongside snapping pictures. A couple hundred of us marched up the middle of that road alongside the State Museum and turned right for a short way on Park Avenue. Then we turned left down South Swan, which becomes Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Boulevard as it crosses Lincoln Park.

Crossing Lincoln Park
Crossing Lincoln Park

A police honor guard riding horses and cherry top cars preceded, followed by a whole herd of politicians. I was glad to see this, in recent past years most of our elected officials preferred to appear magically at the King monument without marching. The rest of us trailed behind them, some folks carrying identifying banners.

Absolutely nobody lined the route and watched us as we marched, like you’d expect with an old fashioned parade. This is a modern democratic parade, with more in common with a 5k run than a Fourth of July procession. Instead of watchers enjoying the spectacle, the parade is made up of anybody who wants to parade. No one is excluded, Dr. King no doubt would approve.

Over and over a group of guys sang “We Shall Overcome” with rasping voices, off key and out of sync with each other. Hey, it wasn’t musical, but at least these guys really meant it. I kinda liked it.

Assembling At The Monument
Assembling At The Monument

In about five minutes we were at the statue. It wasn’t much of a march. We could all honor Dr. King better by starting at the City line on Broadway at Menands, toiling up the hill and arriving with gratitude and a sense of accomplishment in the South End. And we could take a different route every year, gazing at the fine and not so fine aspects of our community. But then, we’d probably have a lot fewer politicians in the vanguard.

The Guy Who Played Taps
The Guy Who Played Taps

So we assembled at the monument. Two years ago there was an elaborate honor guard ceremony, but this year we had a guy who played taps. The politicians got in line under the statue. But I watched congressional candidate and county legislator Phil Steck step slowly down the bank and position himself in the crunchy snow just below the monument.

“How come you’re not up there with the rest of them?” I asked. He gave me a big grin and said, “Oh, I’m just a regular guy.” Oh, right. A moment later I noticed he’d gone back up the bank, but stood to one side away from the rest. How odd, but interesting.

The corporate media buzzed around getting in the way, and I buzzed around them with my little toy pocket camera getting in their way. A sacred invocation from the reverend, a minimum of appropriate words from The Mayor, and bam it was all over. No need to stand around in the cold.

The Mayor Gets It Over With
The Mayor Gets It Over With

Some of the politicians milled about for a bit. You know they like to have their pictures taken. And they love to be noticed by the public.

I had hoped that Eliot himself would have marched, but he split for New York City right after his speech under The Egg. As for Corey Ellis, I’d left him indoors back at the South Concourse. “It’s too cold out there,” he said. “Besides, I’ve been in enough marches.” Well, la de da.

County Legislator And NYSAC President Luci McKnight
County Legislator And NYSAC President Luci McKnight

So now I’ve seen the annual King ceremony from another perspective. The march was okay, but I doubt I’ll be getting up early to listen to that official New York State horse badordies under the Plaza next year. There are certain things one does once, like go to the drag races or see a fashion show. You attend once in your life so you know what you’re missing, and you don’t have to go again.

Next year maybe I’ll find some fire breathing radical exhorting an audience to rise up and overthrow the masters. Nonviolently, of course, but not peacefully. Surely the memory of Dr. King is alive somewhere in Albany.


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