As Martin Luther King’s birthday is celebrated with a national holiday, his death day disappears down the memory hole. Across the country – in response to the King Holiday and Service Act passed by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton in 1994 – people will be encouraged to make the day one of service. Such service does not include King’s commitment to protest a decadent system of racial and economic injustice or non-violently resist the U.S. warfare state that he called “the greatest purveyor of violence on earth.”
Government sponsored service is cultural neo-liberalism at its finest, the promotion of individualism at the expense of a mass movement for radical institutional change.
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous,” warned Dr. King, “than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
How true those words. For the government that honors Dr. King with a national holiday killed him. This is the suppressed truth behind the highly promoted day of service. It is what you are not supposed to know. It is what Thomas Merton, as quoted by James W. Douglass, called The Unspeakable:
It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and officials declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his service.”
The word service is a loaded word; it has become a smiley face and vogue word over the past 35 years. Its use for MLK Day is clear: individuals are encouraged to volunteer for activities such as tutoring children, painting senior centers, or delivering meals to the elderly, activities that are good in themselves but far less good when used to conceal an American prophet’s radical message. After all,