VETERANS OF CREATIVE SUFFERING
Raven, that rascal, is indulging his sweet tooth—er, beak—with apple strudel from Oro Verde delicatessen.
Rave, would you mind giving me a bite or two?
He looks up, faintly mocking the image of a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
“Why, sure. In fact”—he picks up a knife and begins to divide the fairly big brick of strudel—“I think giving you half would be fair.”
Good thinking, birdbrain—considering that I bought the strudel and brought it home.
“Between dessert fantasies I have been reading an article in Common Dreams by Ariel Dorfman called “Martin Luther King: A Latin American Perspective”. It was written to remember the 40th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, and it’s good.”
Raven is chasing a raisin around on his plate. A pregnant pause ensues. Continues.
He pops the raisin in his beak.
“Sorry. Dorfman mentions that he first heard the speech on television April 4, 1968—the day that King was killed—a week after he arrived in Berekely , California.”
People remember things like that—like I remember walking into the English House at Seattle University the day JFK was killed—or coming home from classes at San Francisco State the evening of that same April 4, 1968 to watch probably the very same newscast that Dorfman was watching in Berekely, on the other side of San Francisco Bay. What was his reaction to the speech?
“He relates it to the situation surrounding the golpe de estado in Chile. He says:
‘It was to be Allende's fate to echo the fate of Martin Luther King; it was his choice to die three years later. Yes, on September 11, 1973, almost ten years to the day after King's "I have a dream" speech in Washington, Allende chose to die defending his own dream, promising us, in his last speech, that sooner rather than later -- m?s temprano que tarde -- a day would come when the free men and women of Chile would walk through las amplias alamedas, the great avenues full of trees, towards a better society.
‘It was in the immediate aftermath of that terrible defeat, as we watched the powerful of Chile impose upon us the terror that we had not wanted to visit upon them, it was then, as our non-violence was met with executions and torture and disappearances, it was only then, after the military coup of 1973, that I first began to seriously commune with Martin Luther King, that his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial came back to haunt and question me. As I headed into an exile that would last for many years, King's voice and message began to filter fully, word by word, into my life. After all, if ever there was a situation where violence could be justified, it would have been against the junta in Chile. Pinochet and his generals had overthrown a constitutional government and were killing and persecuting citizens whose radical sin had been to imagine a world where you do not need to massacre your opponents in order to allow the waters of justice to flow. And yet, very wisely, almost instinctively, the Chilean resistance embraced a different route: to slowly, resolutely, dangerously, take over the surface of the country, isolate the dictatorship inside and outside our nation, and make Chile ungovernable through civil disobedience. Not entirely different from the strategy that the civil rights movement had espoused in the United States. And indeed, I never felt closer to Martin Luther King than during the seventeen years it took us to free Chile of its dictatorship. His words to the militants who thronged to Washington, D.C., in 1963, demanding that they not lose faith, resonated with me, comforted my sad heart.
‘He was speaking prophetically to me, to us, when he said, "I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells." Speaking to us, Dr. King, speaking to me, when he thundered: "Some of you come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering."
Creative suffering. Such a great description of meanspiritedness as the mother of social injustice.
‘He understood that more difficult than going to your first protest, was to awaken the next day and go to the next protest and then the next one, the daily grind of small acts that can lead to large and lethal consequences. The dogs and sheriffs of Alabama and Mississippi were alive and well in the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso, and so was the spirit that had encouraged defenseless men and women and children to be mowed down, beaten, bombed, harassed, and yet continue confronting their oppressors with the only weapons available to them: the suffering of their bodies and the conviction that nothing could make them turn back. And just like the blacks in the United States, so in Chile we also sang in the streets of the cities that had been stolen from us. Not spirituals, for every land has its own songs. In Chile we sang, over and over, the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the hope that a day would come when all men would be brothers.’
Beautiful image: Joy as a strategy for resistance!
“Dorfman turns grim, though, when he talks about the situation in the US now:
‘What would Martin Luther King say if he contemplated what his country has become? If he could see how the terror and death brought to bear upon New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 had turned his people into a fearful nation, ready to stop dreaming, ready to abridge their own freedoms in order to be secure? What would he say if he could observe how that fear has been manipulated in order to justify the invasion of a foreign land, the occupation of that land against the will of its own people? What alternative way would he have advised to be rid of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein? And how would he react to the Bush doctrine that states that some people on this planet, Americans to be precise, have more rights than the other citizens of the world? What would he say if he were to see his fellow countrymen proclaiming that because of their pain and their military and economic might they can do as they please, flaunt international law, withdraw from nuclear treaties, deceive and pollute the world? Would he warn them that such arrogance will not go unpunished? Would he tell those who oppose these policies inside the United States to stand up and be counted, to march ahead, never to wallow in the valley of despair?’”
A lot of folks wallowing in the valley of despair—or in the words of John Bunyan in PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, Slough of Despond—would like to know how to answer those questions, Rave.
“Well, he does give a response:
'It is my belief that he would repeat some of the words he delivered on that faraway day in August of 1963 in the shadow of the statue of Abraham Lincoln. I believe he would declare again his faith in his country and remind us of how deeply his dream is rooted in the American dream, of how, despite the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, his dream is still alive and how his nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
Let us hope that he is right. Let us hope and pray, for his sake and ours, that Martin Luther King's faith in his own country was not misplaced and that forty years later his compatriots will once again listen to his fierce and gentle voice calling to them from beyond death and beyond fear, calling on all of us to stand together for freedom and justice in our time. '
Well, Rave, it’s hard to add anything to that. Definitely, let us hope and pray that he is right.