Over the last few weeks papers, television and radio have been referring to Martin Luther King jnr’s speech ‘I have a dream’ which was delivered in Washington on August 28, 1963.
The speech was the high point of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; which in itself became the focal point of a campaign against discrimination, voting restrictions, unfair treatment by the police and statutory barriers against social mobility and economic opportunity.
The impact of this speech was felt across America, and then across the world, and whilst MLK was not initially billed as the main speaker, his speech has now become synonymous with Civil Rights, and led within two years to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act being passed in the USA.
MLK developed his commitment to a principle of non-violent action through the tutelage of Bayard Rustin, a man who was black, gay, and a Quaker. Bayard’s own life had been through many phases. Bayard was brought up by his grandparents acting as his parents, who were methodists ( he later found out that his ‘sister’ was his mother). He was a member of the Young Communist League until 1941 after the Nazi invasion of Russia led the U.S. party to switch gears into building American opposition to fascism, and racial justice issues fell by the wayside.
Rustin was a deeply committed pacifist, owing largely to his Quaker background, and got thrown in jail for conscientiously objecting to service in World War II. It was his introduction of Gandhi’s tactics of nonviolent resistance (which he learned when visiting independence activists in India) to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr which served as a platform for MLK’s enduring success in civil liberties along with his oratory.
Bayard being gay, and also that he had been arrested for 1953 and sentenced under the lesser charge of ‘sex perversion’, was often used by his enemies both in the establishment and in the civil liberties camp as an indication of his unsuitability. However, it is interesting to read the FBI synopsis on him:
Federal Bureau of Investigation internal memorandum (25th January, 1966)
Rustin is a very competent individual who is widely known in the civil rights field. He is personally familiar with numerous individuals with communist backgrounds. As one of Martin Luther King’s closest advisers, he is in a position to wield considerable influence on King’s activities. Technical coverage of Rustin is an important part of the overall coverage of King, who is the most prominent civil rights in the country today. Because of the influence being exerted on King by persons with subversive backgrounds, it is necessary for us to maintain coverage of individuals such as Rustin. In order to fulfill the Bureau’s responsibilities to uncover communist influence in racial matters, it is recommended that technical coverage of Rustin be continued.
Bayard Rustin, has been a man written out of history due to his abilities and to him being black and gay; fortunately society has moved on today, and more importantly the USA has a black president who this year has recognised the importance of Bayard by awarding him Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this month.
Unfortunately some 50 years after MLK’s speech, and it’s impact worldwide, I must report that civil liberties in the United Kingdom are under threat. Our freedoms, whether we are of the LGBT community, black, white, religious or non-religious are important to us. History has shown that we must fight and succor our civil liberties; that we must not allow governments to sequester them int he pursuit of security. So having said this how do we in one of the first democracies of the world now have one and a half times as many surveillance cameras as communist China (Tom Kelly, Mail Online, Aug 2009). According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, as at Aug 2011, there are in actuality 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the united kingdom.
To this we can also see the implementation of ‘Stop and Search’. In June of this year, it was stated that there were a million stops each year, with only 9% leading to court cases (BBC, July 2, 2013). However an article in the Sunday Post dated August 25, 2013, said that in the last year the Scottish Police have actioned six hundred and twelve thousand (612,000) stop and searches in the last year – approximately a 50% increase, with only thirteen percent (13%) possibly finding anything!
I do not believe that England and Wales only did 400,000 stop and searches over this period, and looking back a few years ago I wrote about the police tactics of stopping people and confiscating cameras and videos during various times of unrest ‘in the interest of the public’. A tactic which has since been clarified as being unjustified.
Our civil liberties belong to us:
Civil liberties in the United Kingdom have a long and formative history. This is usually considered to have begun with the English legal charter the Magna Carta of 1215, following its predecessor the English Charter of Liberties, a landmark document in English legal history. However it could be argued that the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 in Scotland was the first attempted implementation of civil liberties in part of the United Kingdom. Today the United Kingdom’s relationship to civil liberties has been mediated through its membership of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In other words, civil liberties are the “rights” or “freedoms” which underpin democracy. This usually means the right to vote, the right to life, the prohibition on torture, security of the person, the right to personal liberty and due process of law, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
I call upon everyone to monitor their police and security forces, their local and national government – don’t allow the United Kingdom to become a ‘police’ state.
Wikipedia –Civil Liberties in the United Kingdom
Wikipedia – Bayard Rustin
The Atlantic – Article by Kerry Eleveld ‘Obama, Bayard Rustin, and the New LGBT Civil Rights Movement‘
Spartacus Educational – Bayard Rustin
Washington Post – Wonkblog – Meet Bayard Rustin, the gay socialist pacifist who planned the 1963 march on Washington