"I have a dream…." and I got it for half off!

Right now as I’m writing this, folks around the country are participating in service projects, going to ecumenical services, or doing other things to benefit their communities as part of the observance of the 83rd birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Here in Philly, the folks at Global Citizen put together a series of projects that gave just about every community in the Delaware Valley some needed assistance that it probably wouldn’t have gotten due to budgetary constraints.

 Just what Dr. King would have wanted.

When the King Holiday became reality 25 years ago, and folks were trying to figure out how to celebrate it, the one concern that everyone had about it was that it might become just like every other holiday: a day off and not much else.

To try and counteract that, former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford, a man who was a contemporary of Dr. King’s and had worked with him during the Civil Rights Movement, suggested that the holiday become “a day on, not a day off”, a day of service, not a day at the mall.

And for the first 10 or so years, that’s exactly how it worked. People took to the streets to plant gardens, build playgrounds, paint school buildings, cook and deliver food to the hungry, and perform other kinds of service to mankind. Interfaith ecumenical services (because you can’t honor a minister without having some sort of church service), luncheons honoring those who work toward King’s “beloved community” and educational activities have also been a part of the observation of the King Holiday.

(There is also a full slate of NBA basketball games to commemorate the King Holiday because after a long day of giving back to the community, catching a game with your buds is a great way to unwind..)

But over the last few years, I’ve started to see something connected to the King Holiday that I was really hoping it could avoid.

What might that be, you might ask?

Well, it’s this…

Why Sears and KMart are losing market share…

This, in case the caption isn’t clear, is an ad from KMart for an MLK Day sale. I went looking for (and asked my Facebook friends to send me) ads like this after seeing Sears MLK Day appliance sale ad on television.

It’s not the only one that I saw. Everyone from clothing retailers like Betsey Johnson to car dealerships, to even the Home Shopping Network has a slew of discounts connected to the birthday of a man who would have reacted to it in much the same way that Jesus reacted to the moneychangers in the temple during Passover.

And, and I’m saying this because I’m starting to think that we can’t help ourselves, the more heinous damage from a retail perspective being done to the King Holiday, a holiday that African Americans worked hard to make possible, is, of course, self-inflicted.

Observe:

The levels on which this is wrong defy description. This is for a party in Miami. There were others, including, and this was my personal favorite, a nightclub in Washington, DC offering the “I have a dream” cocktail.

(God, do I wish I was kidding!)

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that I live in a nation where “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” is the law of the land, something that was codified when the Supreme Court decided to give corporations personhood through the Citizens United decision.

Because of this, I also know that no holiday is safe from crass commercialization. Don’t believe me? Go to any CVS pharmacy the day after Halloween. You’ll see that in one day it’s changed from spooky ghosts and witches hats to a winter wonderland, complete with motorized Dancing Santas.

I also realize that there are folks out there, many of whom are ensconced on the boards of the very corporations responsible for most of the crass commercialization of our holidays, who are still pissed off that King has a federal holiday because they saw him as a Communist agitator. Wanting to see such things as  humane treatment for workers, people being able to support themselves by making a living wage, and true equality for everyone, and being willing to take it to the streets to make it a reality, can make you unpopular in some quarters.

But I thought that we could, as a nation, at least let the King Holiday maintain the significance its supposed to have for at least a little while longer. There’s still too much that needs to be done in our communities for the holiday to become just another opportunity to hit the mall.

So what do we do? Good question.

Maybe someone can get Sen. Harris Wofford back on camera to remind us of why the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King deserved a holiday in the first place…

Me and my bud Brian Marcus at the King Memorial

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