To Martin Luther King, Jr. (first letter)

Dear Reverend King,
Recent events in New Orleans have compelled me to write to you for the first time. I hope you’re not too dismayed with the way things are going these days. Do you know what’s happening? I’m one of many millions who wish you were still among us. Solidarity and vision are not with the people. We are even told, Reverend, that the people no longer exist in this “post-ideological age”.
Did you ever know this woman standing in front of the Superdome? There were thousands more like her. Many died. Was she a part of the movement back in the day? Did she protest with you in Albany, Birmingham, Chicago or Washington?
When I think of the people I imagine your non-violent army — the one that never got a chance to march in the Poor People’s Campaign because of your sudden death. I read about your plans though. Not just Negroes you said, but Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Appalachian Whites and American Indians too. Unlike the ’63 March for Jobs and Freedom, this one would set up camp on the Washington mall indefinitely. Changing policy and enforcing the law doesn’t cost nearly as much as the redistribution of wealth. You knew it would take longer than an afternoon the next symbolic time around.
Can the dead return to help us Reverend? Will they see out the struggle with the living and the celebrations to follow?
You knew this was the core problem. You saw the ghettos of the desegregated north and the destruction of the Watts Riots. The nightmare haunting your dream continues. Thankfully you’ve missed out on LA the second time around and the “natural disaster” of Katrina (amongst many other things).
“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied, until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
So much of the present mocks your vision.
I’ve heard that some of your people recalled a passage from Genesis shortly before your assassination: “Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him…and we will see what will become of his dreams.” Your struggle has been ours since before a lot of us were born. It’s been almost forty years without you but we are not alone. The same adversity confronts us and grows, fed by a fear of poverty manipulated for the protection of concentrated wealth.
“I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and the Brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda.”
What happened in the Gulf Coast this September is another reminder that the work is not finished. We aren’t done yet.
jeremy