On the eve of Martin Luther King’s Birthday, protesters mobilized by the shooting deaths of young blacks and outraged about racial inequality are evoking his work, denouncing what they say is an attempt to sanitize his message and using the hashtag #ReclaimMLK hoping to rekindle a new movement for social change.
The website Ferguson Action, for instance, which has been a focal point for information on protests and activism in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., says Dr. King’s “radical, principled and uncompromising” vision should be a model for protest and disruption for our time.
The iconic images of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. come from an era when he was confronting legalized discrimination, and communication tools included mimeographed fliers and the holy grail of a network television report. Protesters today cite myriad ills embedded in the economy and culture and spread their messages instantly through websites, Twitter hashtags and text messages.
And at a time of widespread social unrest over race and inequality, the King holiday on Monday is highlighting both the power of Dr. King’s vision, brought to the public again in the film “Selma,” and the enormous difficulties of forging a new movement along similar lines.
Nonetheless, today’s protesters are embracing Dr. King’s spirit and the tactics of his era with a sense of commitment that has not existed, perhaps, for decades.
“We’re in the business of disrupting white supremacy,” said Wazi Davis, 23, a student at San Francisco State University, who has helped organize protests in the Bay Area. “We look toward historical tactics. The Montgomery bus boycott, the sit-ins — those tactics were all about disruption.”
What is far less clear is whether today’s protesters have the ability, or even the intention, to build an organized movement capable of creating social change.