King Day 2009

This year’s Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 19, may be the most celebrated commemoration of Dr. King’s birthday since the federal holiday was first observed in 1986. Responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s call to make it a national day of service, thousands of service events were planned around the country.

In the Arlington, Va., area the long list of scheduled events ranged from a march organized by the Northern Virginia Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, at the National Airport Hilton to support union members who have been without a contract for one and a half years, to a Wakefield High School Field Cleanup (meeting at the stadium field behind the tennis courts to help pick up trash from along the fences and under the bleachers), to a food drive in support of the Arlington Food Assistance Center which provides groceries to Arlington residents in need, to a Red Cross blood drive, to “We Are What We Want the World to Become” at the Pentagon Metro stop (organizing youth and teens to create musical interpretations to pay homage to America and its transition for our future educationally), to a bipartisan training and celebration to help wounded veterans and their families (at Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub).

This outpouring is a beautiful expression of the deeply American spirit of community, helping those in need and collective action that characterized the civil rights movement led by Dr. King, and that Obama’s campaign galvanized. It feels like the sun coming out from behind an eight-year cloud of mean-spiritedness, divisiveness and destruction.

And on the following day, what an amazing celebration of King’s birthday, and indeed a tribute to his impact on our country — the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president. It is not only a historic milestone, but a profound advance whose impact will unfold over time, in further changing thought patterns and building a “more perfect union” of our working class and people.

Yet it is not the end of the road in overcoming systemic inequality, racism and discrimination. It is a historic step, opening up new possibilities, but, as King himself would be the first to say, there is much more to be done, and many struggles to wage.