Thursday, January 24, 2008

Holding on for a leader...

On Monday, while I was home from work due to the King holiday, I took some time to read and listen to a few of Dr. King’s speeches. I also listened to an interview with an author who has written a book about Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech.

And the question kept coming into my brain, over and over, all day long: Where is OUR Dr. King? Since 1968, with the deaths of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, where have all the LEADERS gone? When we look for real leadership, must we always look to the past, to our dead heroes? I’d settle for someone whose still alive who can SPEAK like one. Preferably in grammatically-correct sentences.

Where are the people who can come anywhere close to the oratorical power and majesty of a Dr. King? Every once in a while, we hear someone like Mario Cuomo, Jessie Jackson, or Barack Obama come up with a memorable speech. Every once in a while, some politician can spin a memorable metaphor that sticks in our brains for a while. But then we move on, and the fancy turn of phrase is forgotten.

Dr. King didn’t just move people with his words. He didn’t just have a “dream.” He had a plan. He had a vision, specifically of non-violent change. He had a set of things he was for, and a bunch of things he was against. He wasn’t afraid to say what he thought. He did not equivocate. He didn’t really compromise. He stood up, and refused to sit down.

He died for that. What, if anything, would our current day “leaders” die for?

What we have now is not a “political system.” ALL we have is poli-tics. When King talked about “change,” he was talking about a fundamental change in how people act, think, believe, and govern. He was talking about a radical agenda of equality, egalitarianism, economic and social justice, tolerance, non-violence, and anti-militarism.

Do we hear anyone in America talking this way? Do any of our political or social or cultural “leaders” push a similar agenda? No one can claim King’s mantle, and no one can realistically be expected to be able to inspire people the way he did, either by their words, their character, or their charisma. But geez louise, who is out there to inspire US? Who do our children get to listen to, to be moved by, to inspire them?

The people I’m thinking of are brave. They are compassionate. They are clever and creative. They are audacious. They have nerve. Bravado. Chutzpah. And they have principles. Core beliefs. And while they can change their beliefs based on education and experience, at the root, there is a basic set of core values from which they do not waiver. They have integrity. And they speak truth to power, rather than seeking power for themselves.

There are writers and commentators whose words inspire and move me: Naomi Klein, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Samantha Power, Cornel West, Jim Hightower, Chris Hedges, John Nichols, Amy Goodman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Arundhati Roy, Howard Zinn. There are a few politicians whose work and dedication to progressive ideals give me some hope: John Lewis, Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Overseas, I listen to and learn from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. Paul Wellstone did this for me, as did Shirley Chisholm and Cesar Chavez, but they’re all gone. I admire the humanitarian work of actors and creative folks like Don Cheadle, Mia Farrow, Khalid Hosseini, Bono, Billy Bragg, and Susan Sarandon.

And I miss Joe Strummer every day.

But I guess I’m still wishing that someone would come along who could pick up that torch.

Or am I wrong here? Maybe the answer is for all of us to pick up the torch and hold it up together.

Maybe we need to be our own leaders, our own heroes.

Got any ideas?

No comments: