At a campaign event on Thursday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was so bold as to draw parallels between the work that she and fellow members of “the squad” — Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — are engaged in and the injustices that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted in his day.
There is at least one major difference between King and the squad: MLK spoke of people as children of God and Americans first and then their race, but for the squad, it often seems to be the other way around.
“I really do believe that we are in a moment where we are picking up where the civil rights movement left off. I think that’s where we’re at,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the event in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.
“When we talk about picking up where the civil rights movement left off,” the democratic socialist representative continued. “I have always been enthralled with these kind of figures in our history, whether it was [Abraham] Lincoln or whether it was King.”
In his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963, King called on the United States to live up to its central creed found in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
African-Americans faced true denial of their civil rights, most overtly in the form of segregation laws throughout the southern states. King went to jail because he protested these clear violations of the laws of God and the Constitution.
Yet through it all, King saw a hopeful vision for America’s future “when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”
… “that day when all of God’s children, Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing: Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Martin Luther King, Jr.#MLKDay #IHaveADream #LetFreedomRing pic.twitter.com/mFCN1GG3Zx
— Andrew☀️ (@andrewdecker593) January 15, 2018
The following year, the U.S. passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended segregation and did much to help blacks in the south to secure political power in the years ahead.
Now over a half-century later, there are 56 African-American members of Congress, along with 43 Hispanic, 17 Asian and four Native American representatives and senators.
Pressley is one of those members, but her message to her fellow minorities is the opposite of what King preached.
At a Netroots Conference in Philadelphia last weekend, she said, “Because if you’re going to come to this table, all of you who have aspirations of running for office. If you’re not prepared to come to that table and represent that voice, don’t come, because we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice.”
“We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.” pic.twitter.com/b2TibMhPky
— Evan Lips (@evanmlips) July 15, 2019
“We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice,” she continued.
“We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.”
How about bringing your American voice instead?
At that same Netroots event, Omar argued that the U.S. is currently a land of injustice that does not live up to its values.
“You ask anyone walking on the side of the street, somewhere in the middle of the world, they will tell you America the great, but we don’t live these values here,” the congresswoman said, with a chuckle.
“And so that hypocrisy is one that I am bothered by. I want America the great to be America the great.”
Watch the full response by Rep @IlhanMN about what being American means to her and how she responds to critique that she’s anti-American. Rep Omar says she believes that as an immigrant she loves America more than anyone who is a naturally born American. #NN19 pic.twitter.com/VFt92s2PSv
— Abraham Gutman? (@abgutman) July 13, 2019
“The squad” is always ready to play the race card at the drop of a dime.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that aired Wednesday, Tlaib sided with Ocasio-Cortez in suggesting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California was guilty of racism for singling them out when the four voted against a bill providing humanitarian aid to the southern border.
“The fact of the knowledge is — and I’ve done racial justice work in our country for a long time,” Tlaib said. “Acknowledge the fact that we are women of color, so when you do single us out, be aware of that and what you’re doing especially because some of us are getting death threats, because some of us are being singled out in many ways because of our backgrounds, because of our experiences and so forth.”
Ocasio-Cortez made a similar accusation in an interview with The Washington Post last week, calling Pelosi “outright disrespectful” in her comments following the vote.
“When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood,” the congresswoman said.
“But the persistent singling out … it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”
This week, their fight against racial injustice is directed against President Donald Trump following his tweets and remarks suggesting if they don’t like the country, they are free to leave.
For Ocasio-Cortez and Omar, it was manifest evidence that Trump is a racist and a fascist.
African-American, Asians and Hispanics are currently experiencing their lowest unemployment figures in U.S. history, and wages (particularly for the lowest income earners) have been rising for the first time in years under policies instituted by Trump.
These figures are something the president proudly touts often.
So if he is trying to oppress racial minorities or somehow make them second class citizens, he is not doing a very good job.
Ocasio-Cortez and members of the squad have called for passage of the Green New Deal, a guaranteed living income and government-run health care as the best, most equitable way forward for the United States.
The majority of Americans see it differently, and it has nothing to do with race.
King was hopeful about the future of America, because he saw it as a nation founded in truth, rather than rooted in injustice, as “the squad” thinks.
He wrote in his celebrated Letter from a Birmingham Jail that when we view ourselves as God’s children and Americans first, and not by our racial identity, we are living up to the country’s highest ideals.
The result is “bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
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