Fortunately, many Americans are involved in grass-roots movements that follow in his footsteps. King began his activism as a crusader against racial segregation, but he soon recognized that his battle was part of a much broader fight for a more humane society. Today, at age 84, King would no doubt still be on the front lines, lending his voice and his energy to major battles for justice.
Voting rights: Along with other civil rights leaders, King fought hard to dismantle Jim Crow laws that kept blacks from voting. He was proud of his role in pushing Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act in 1965. He’d be outraged by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to weaken the law that, among other things, increased the number of black voters and black elected officials.
Since that ruling, a movement has burgeoned to stop states’ efforts to require photo IDs in order to vote, shrink the early-voting period, and end same-day voter registration and pre-registration for teenagerswho will turn 18 by Election Day. Today, King might lend his name to these campaigns and join the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, where thousands have opposed that state’s efforts to restrict voting rights.
Gun violence: During the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, King faced constant death threats and feared for his family’s life. He owned several guns and allowed armed guards to protect his home. But Bayard Rustin — a pacifist who was one of King’s closest advisers — persuaded King to give up his guns and guards and embrace a nonviolent strategy.
King’s commitment to nonviolence grew stronger as he grew older. After John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, King wrote: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”
Today he would probably push for tougher limits on gun ownership. He would have joined the college and high school students who recently camped outside Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office for 31 days, demanding repeal of that state’s shoot-first “stand your ground” law. And he’d probably support the activists in Chicago who recently protested for several days outside a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-sponsored lobbying group that has been a major advocate of “stand your ground” laws. He might call on cities, colleges and churches to divest from companies that manufacture military-style assault weapons.