Driving Professor Dreier: Everybody seems to know what Dr. King would be doing and saying were he alive today.
Almost always, Dr. King would be doing and saying exactly what the clairvoyant in question is inclined to do and say. This is one of the most annoying aspects of civil rights retrospectives.
Last Sunday, Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental took the practice to new heights. He wrote the featured, front-page piece in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.
“Where would he lead us today?” a large headline asked. “With new battles over gay rights, voting and economic opportunity, Peter Dreier says Martin Luther king Jt. would still be marching today.”
Not only that; with apologies, Dr. King would be exhausted! Can you spot the germ of a problem as the professor starts?
DREIER (8/25/13): What would the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. march for if he were alive today?Dr. King has been gone for 45 years. But the professor has “no doubt” what he’d be doing today!
America has made progress on many fronts in the half-century since King electrified a crowd of 200,000 people, and millions of Americans watching on television, with his "I Have a Dream" address at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But there is still much to do to achieve his vision of equality.
Fortunately, many Americans are involved in grass-roots movements that follow in his footsteps. King began his activism as a crusader against racial segregation, but he soon recognized that his battle was part of a much broader fight for a more humane society. Today, at age 84, King would no doubt still be on the front lines, lending his voice and his energy to major battles for justice.
We’re always annoyed when people presume to say what Dr. King would think about issues today, but there is a larger problem in Dreier’s treatment. As the professor notes, Dr. King would be 84 if he were alive today. Despite the professor’s lack of doubt, it’s possible that he wouldn’t be marching at all at this point.
Despite these minor problems, Professor Dreier set off on a cross-country ramble in which he listed 21 different things Dr. King would be thinking or doing were he alive today. Perhaps to hold possible hubris at bay, the professor split these activities into three groups:
Things Dr. King would be doing today.We were struck by the professor’s self-confidence. We were stunned by the level of activity to which he’d condemn this great man.
Things Dr. King might be doing today.
Things Dr. King would probably be doing today.
Professor Dreier is one of the nation’s greatest clairvoyants. He knows what Dr. King would think and do about gun ownership, the financing of Detroit and the question of reset mortgages for underwater homeowners. The professor knows that Dr. King would be working with “activist groups such as Code Pink to cut the defense budget,” and “with the LGBT community to help push states toward legalizing same-sex marriage.”
For the record, that last activity seems to rate only a “probably.” According to Dreier, “Typical of most Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, King did not approve of homosexuality.” But people! No problem!
“His views probably would have evolved,” the probably-knowing professor says. Indeed, the professor’s clairvoyance is such that he can even say this:
DREIER: King never spoke publicly about his views on abortion, and he was murdered five years before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, but he was a fervent advocate for universal health care. "Of all the forms of inequality," he said in 1966, "injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." Today King probably would speak at rallies and participate in vigils at state capitals in Maine, North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere to protect women's access to health care and reproductive freedom—and challenge those who are trying to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics.Dr. King never stated his view on abortion, but he would “probably” participate in vigils to protect women’s access to reproductive freedom. In short, Dr. King would do whatever he had to do to show he completely supports all of Dreier’s views.
For ourselves, we pretty much share all those views. Having said that, we think Dr. King earned the right in his astonishing life not to have people like Dreier treating him like a toy. How about some basic respect for one of history’s greatest figures? For a seer who didn't think like everyone else—for a giant, questing figure who conducted a genuine search.