Martin Luther King, Presente!

Future Hope column, April 29, 2008

By Ted Glick

“Had he [Dr. King] lived and been confronted with the abject failure of liberal democracy to alleviate the suffering and deprivation of its teeming masses, his formidable conscience might well have required him to advocate root and branch reconstruction of the government of his native land, as, in fact, was urged by Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson as the responsibility of each new generation.” William F. Pepper, in “An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King”

Over the past weekend, while away at the N.J. shore trying to get over the symptoms of a lingering flu, I read William F. Pepper’s book about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was sobering reading.

In An Act of State, Pepper lays out a very strong case that King was killed not by James Earl Ray but, instead, as a result of a wide-ranging assassination plan-a conspiracy-between elements of the U.S. military, the CIA, the FBI, the Memphis police and organized crime. The heart of the book is the chapter about the civil trial which took place in Memphis in November and December, 1999.

In that trial, on behalf of the King family, William Pepper and others working with him presented the details of the conspiracy that they had been able to uncover over the course of decades of investigation. When the case went to the jury for a decision, it took them all of one hour to come back with their verdict:

“After nearly four weeks of trial and some 70 witnesses they found that: yes, Loyd Jowers [a local Memphis resident], participated in a conspiracy to do harm to Martin Luther King; and, yes, others including governmental agencies were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant.”

Following this decision, the judge in the case, James Swearingen, “apportioned liability as follows: 30% – defendant Loyd Jowers, 70% – all other co-conspirators.”

Pepper-and he has a lot of company-is convinced that the reason King was killed in 1968 was because of the movement he was building. That movement was linking opposition to racial and economic injustice, the war in Vietnam and the structural oppression of the U.S. political and economic system. The powers-that-be were particularly concerned about the leadership King was giving toward the multi-racial and multi-issue Poor People’s March on Washington, D.C. The intention of that march was to nonviolently disrupt business as usual over a period of weeks.

Within the 1968 political context of an aroused Black community, a growing anti-war movement and other political ferment at the base of society, government and corporate leaders were worried about the Poor People’s March acting as a spark to galvanize a massive uprising for peace and justice.

Today, 40 years later, the conditions which led Martin Luther King to give his life in a struggle to overcome them have not improved. It is true that there are more African Americans and other people of color within the worlds of government, business, education, sports, mass media and other U.S. institutions. But the percentages of people in poverty or close to it and without health insurance are virtually the same. The gulf between the super-rich elite and the vast majority of the people, nationally and internationally, has widened into a tremendous and devastating chasm. The number of Blacks and Latinos within U.S. jails and prisons has skyrocketed over those 40 years. U.S. military spending and U.S. militarism and imperialism is much more extensive. The global warming crisis, a result of the dominance of corporate fossil fuel polluters over government and the media, is threatening all life on earth.

I’ve been personally involved in two efforts over the past eight months that nonviolently disrupted business as usual in Washington, D.C.-as part of a No War, No Warming action on Capitol Hill on October 22, 2007 and as part of a primarily anti-war action on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War on March 19th, 2008. Both were important. Both got national press coverage. Both were concrete examples that within the peace/justice movement and within the climate movement there are currents of activism growing which are prepared to up the ante, to put our bodies on the line.

I don’t know how much of this kind of activism can be expected over the rest of the year. There will be some at the Republican and Democratic conventions. There will probably be some at coal plants, or projected sites of new coal plants. Perhaps there will be nonviolent civil disobedience directed at some of the particularly odious politicians running for office. But in general, my reading of the state of our movement is that most activists are involved or are planning to be involved, one way or the other, in relationship to 2008 electoral campaigns.

Electoral activism can be useful in building a movement and building organization, if it’s independent of corporate Democrat and corporate Republican domination. But we also need to be opening up discussions now about how, in the first part of 2009, at the Presidential Inauguration in D.C. and during the first weeks and months of a new President and a new Congress, the demands and needs of the people and our threatened ecosystem can be brought forward loudly and clearly using, as a primary tactic, creative, disruptive, nonviolent direct action.

In the spirit and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who have given their lives in the struggle against oppressive rulers and for a new society, we need a massive, 2009 Peoples March on D.C. next spring, an urgent mobilization of the people against war and global warming and for jobs, justice, clean energy and peace. We must make government of, by and for the people a reality, and we must get organized to bring independent, sustained pressure to bear until we achieve that objective. Martin Luther King, presente!

Ted Glick is coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council ( and is a leading activist in No War, No Warming ( He can be reached at