On the afternoon of the day that a memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the first honoring an African-American on the National Mall — was dedicated with speeches by President Barack Obama and the Reverend Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and Princeton professor Cornel West was among 19 people arrested for protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court.
West and the others refused to leave the grounds of the court. Their protest was intended to mark that it has been ten years since the war in Afghanistan started; the protest also had an “anti-war and anti-corporate greed message” allying it with Occupy Wall Street.
West, the author of books including Race Matters and Democracy Matters, had attended the dedication of the memorial to King. Back in August, around the time when the memorial had originally been scheduled to be dedicated to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington (Hurricane Irene necessitated that the ceremony be rescheduled), West had written an op-ed, Dr. King Weeps From His Grave, in which he took Obama to terms for falling “tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy”:
Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.
West called for what he says would be King’s response to our crisis, a call to revolution:
A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.
In light of the protests in New York and around the world this past weekend, West’s words seem prophetic. In a July New York Times Magazine interview, West had described himself as “an intellectual warrior and spiritual soldier” — and he’s now putting his words into action.
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