by Jennie S. Bev
On Jan. 19, 2009, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 80 years old. His hair would have been all gray and his hardships would have been marked with deep wrinkles on his face. And he would have been the proudest person on earth to see the first African-American president who will be inaugurated on the following day: Jan. 20, 2009.
King might not be present on that historical day but he will be there in spirit. He once said, “If anything happens to me, there will be others to take my place.” With commendable and convincing oratory skills, Barack Obama is one of the best manifestations of his spirit.
Out of the three leadership types —anchor, fixer and visionary— King’s was visionary.
He envisioned an America (and the world) that is free from racial discrimination, racial segregation and poverty by channeling his thoughtful nonviolence activism effectively in an eloquent manner. His ability to thrill audiences with a poet’s tongue and a philosopher’s erudition was hard to match by any other leaders, except perhaps by John F. Kennedy, Harvey Milk and Barack Obama.
As a visionary, he possessed an innate ability to predict, including his own future: his death. He had been channeling it through searing oratory that looked past his own death foretelling how he should be viewed long after he was gone. Such oratory is called “automortology.”
It was a philosophical way of looking at life and death, combined with wishes for his own funeral and eulogy. He did not wish to be remembered for winning a Nobel Prize and a few other hundreds of awards, but instead as one who clothed the poor, visited the incarcerated and fed the hungry. He wished to be remembered for his love and efforts to serve humanity.
Obama promises to carry on King’s legacy by strengthening civil rights enforcement and combating discrimination.
Delivering his own automortology long before he was assassinated gave him a triumphant moment that he knew where he was standing and clearly saw what the future held. It also spoke to his would-be assassinator that he was aware of the plan and not afraid when it eventually occurred.
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person who served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, also predicted his own assassination. He recorded his life story and wishes, which later were used as the basis of his biographical book The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts and movie Milk played by Sean Penn.
As an orator, Milk eloquently said, “The American Dream starts with neighborhoods. If we wish to rebuild our cities, we must first rebuild our neighborhoods. To sit on front steps — whether it’s a veranda in a small town or a concrete stoop in a big city — is infinitely more important than to huddle on the living room lounge and watch a make-believe world in not-quite living color.”
He also gave rise to an adage that has been empowering every gay man and woman ever since, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
Like King and Milk, Obama is also a great orator spelling out grand ideas in anodyne words sprinkled with hope. Most, if not all, visionary leaders almost always sound alarming to oppositions, which explains why assassination is a risk none greater than the vision itself.
As a president, Obama promises to continue King’s legacy by strengthening civil rights enforcement, combating employment discrimination, expanding hate crime statutes, ending deceptive voting practices, ending racial profiling, reducing crime recidivism by providing ex-offender support, eliminating sentencing disparities and expanding the use of drug courts. All in addition to fixing Bush’s jammed trickling-down economy with his bottom-up economic justice, fighting for fair trade and creating millions of jobs among many other things to fix and undo.
Obama’s responsibility is far greater than most of his predecessors. And he has his visionary leadership revealed in persuasive rhetoric to distinguish himself. His inauguration speech will be a classic, just like FDR’s “There is nothing to fear except for the fear itself” and JFK’s “Do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” And we already have one from him that is already ringing, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”
Obama’s former aide Dan Shomon said it well, “People have always had a tendency to give Obama a pass. It’s like no other politician I’ve seen. They feel like he is on this important mission. And maybe he is.”
Obama is on an important mission and he might risk being assassinated. That inauguration speech might serve as both a promise and an early unfinished automortology. Let’s hope the latter would not ever transpire.
Long life the first black leader of the new world.
The Jakarta Globe, January 14, 2009