Why is celebrating Martin Luther king, Jr Day important to me, especially this year of 2021?
A lot of people would say that 2020 was a challenging year for the earth and particularly for the United States with the Virus and social/political unrest. I look at this new year with optimism because I see our difficulties as a catalyst for change. I see some new ways of living emerging that many have not had time or energy to even imagine.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who did have a vision for a future where equality, well being, and peace became our dominant motivations. Soon after he was shot down on April 4, 1968, John Conyers long time representative in Congress from Detroit area proposed a national holiday in honor of his birth and message. With a lot of effort from many including Stevie Wonder, a national holiday was proclaimed in 1983.
This holiday falls right after Christmas and New Years celebrations which for many includes a lot of revelry also known as partying. MLK Day has a very different tone. It is a day to remember the struggle to make our world a kinder and gentler place. And for me it is a time to study and restudy history so I can understand how we got to where we are and how we might choose to change our course.
Here in Hawaii where I live there are principles based on malama, kuleana, pono , and aloha. And I love the phrase pu’u honua wjich literally translated is hill-earth and means “a safe place” like a city of refuge. If we malama each other and our environment ( care for), and live and honor our kuleana ( which is a place or service that is essential to the heart of our being) help make things pono ( bring back into balance or rightness) and Love( acknowledging that we all share the same breath of Life) then we can all live with the safe feelings of security and support .
Sparks Matsunaga who was born on Kaua‘i in 1916 and represented the state of Hawaii in the U.S. senate from 1977 until his death in 1990 said, “If we emphasize the life and works of our greatest contributors….people will come to realize that moral courage is bravery of the highest type, and America will be called the “Champion of Peace.”
Senator Matsunaga worked to get reparations for American citizens of Japanese ancestry who were interred in camps during World War II and succeeded, helped create national Poet Laureate, and establish a peace institute in Washington , DC. I do not see that peace institute getting much press.
Marianne Williamson who was in Democratic party presidential race last year advocated for reparations for indigenous peoples and descendant of slaves and for a department of peace and was considered by establishment to be a “Kook”. John Conyers consistently advocated in congress for reparations for descendants of slavery.
These are people demonstrating moral courage toward reconciliation of past wrongs and bringing us back into balance, making us pono. And there are thousands of examples of people doing this work now and historically.
Last year was 100 year anniversary of women being allowed to vote in the U.S. That historic change in 1920 was 144 years after the Declaration of Independence. And by many socioeconomic markers women still are not equal citizens. The #metoo movement is one symbol of the continued oppression of the feminine.
2019 was the 400 year commemoration of the first slaves being brought to Virginia. So it took 246 years, from 1619 to 1865 to legally end slavery but it took another 100 years to pass the equal rights amendment to end legal segregation. During those 100 years lynchings and many other horrific forms of brutality on top of economic/ political/ social inequality were rampant and still have not entirely subsided.
2021 is the 400 year anniversary of the historic first thanksgiving when the native people helped the new unprepared immigrants escaping religious persecution to survive the harsh winter. Those indigenous people and their culture was mostly wiped out by the invading Europeans.
The Europeans claimed land that was not theirs, used slaves from Africa, and indentured servants from their homelands to build their economy.
This story was happening all over the globe and is the story of Kaua‘i. There is evidence that prior to Captain Cook’s “discovery” of these islands on Jan 18, 1778, most people living here were overcoming the feudalism of Tahitian invasion and beginning to share land and water in a fairly egalitarian way. Life was pretty good, I believe. After European contact whalers, missionaries, and agribusiness greed came along with small pox and other diseases which decimated the population. The plantations did not bring slaves but the Japanese, Filipino, Chinese and other imported laborers were only a small step above slave labor. The goals of the 1924 strike which ended with 20 dead on the street in Hanapepe were a $2/day wage and 8hour day. This labor movement was suppressed successfully.
If you search you can find innumerable examples of systematic racism, systematic sexism, systematic economic inequalities. You can also find innumerable courageous people who have stood up and spoken and acted toward creating the dream that Martin Luther King, Jr envisioned.
This year, on January 18, 2021, 243 years after Cook cruised in, we are remembering and learning through our celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday how to keep making progress toward all humans living together in safe places with healthy food and life, liberty and happiness.
If you would like to participate or know more about Kaua‘i Martin Luther King Day 2021, please call/text me at 808-346-2587 or email email@example.com
Steve Backinoff is a resident of Kapahi.