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What to Do Today

I always devote at least part of MLK Day to learning something new about race, racism, and/or past or current civil rights movements here or abroad. Even though I’ve actively studied these subjects for many years, there’s always so much that I don’t yet know.

This year, in memory of civil rights icon Grace Lee Boggs (June 27, 1915 – October 5, 2015), who I had the honor of meeting and learning from in the early 1990s but whose subsequent thinking I’d not followed as closely as I ought to have done, I’m going to watch a documentary about her life and also start reading her 2011 book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century.

In accordance with our MLK Day Vegan Challenge, I encourage everybody to make a plan to learn something (or, even better, begin a long-term learning process) today.

The best thing to do, if you can, is to attend one or more MLK Day events in your area. Unless you are a civil rights or anti-racist activist year-round, please don’t go with the idea of somehow finding a way to promote veganism or animal rights. Focus on listening and learning instead.

Whether or not you are able to attend an event, you could take advantage of the wonders of the internet to deepen your understanding of MLK himself or to investigate the history of the civil rights movement in your own city, town, or state.

You could watch a documentary. If you’re not clear on the basic outlines of the civil rights movement, you could start working your way through the Eyes on the Prize series. If you’re looking for lesser-known information, you could watch Daisy Bates: First Lady of Little Rock or The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975.

You could start to read a book. Here are the three I’m recommending for MLK Day this year:

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement by Barbara Ransby

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It by Jo Ann Robinson

The Rebellious Life of Mrs Rosa Parks by Jeanne Theoharis

Whatever you do, please do come back here to share any insights you glean that might be useful in our shared struggle for peace and freedom for everybody.

2017 update

Here are two more recommended books…

Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins

March by John Lewis

And one strongly recommended documentary…

13th directed by Ava DuVernay

5 comments to What to Do Today

  • BL
    One illustration that might be useful for people that may still be wondering what systemic white supremacy looks like in practical terms:

    I’m relistening to this and committing to finishing the book:

    Why are African Americans missing from our collective imagery of the environment and environmentalism? Cultural geographer Carolyn Finney discusses both the history of African Americans and nature — as it’s defined in the United States — and the history of African American environmentalism, separating myth from fact.

  • Thank you, I’m going to watch some of these videos and read Jo Ann Robinson’s book!
  • pattrice
    Madeleine, that’s great!

    For my part, I did START watching Grace Lee’s film, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, and it is GREAT — a must-see for anybody interested in the trajectory of a life devoted to activist thought and action in interaction as well as for anybody interested in the city of Detroit. (The director’s previous film, The Grace Lee Project, is also a must-see, by the way.)

    I also bought and started reading The Next American Revolution by Grace Lee Boggs, highlighting madly from the get-go.

    But we had a hard day, weather-wise, on site and I had done both sunrise and closing chores, so I conked out midway through the film. I’ll finish both the book and the film this week.

    Meantime, here’s a quote that speaks right to my present preoccupation with figuring out what we need to do now:

    “Evolution is not linear. Times interact.” — Grace Lee Boggs

  • I spent the day marching from Oakland to Emeryville, taking lots of photos along the way! Lots of great energy in this weekend’s efforts to reclaim the radical legacy of MLK.
  • pattrice
    I learned a lot from Grace Lee Boggs last year. This year, I’ll be starting a book that’s been gathering dust on my shelves for too long: Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D.G. Kelley. I knew Robin back in Ann Arbor, when we both were affiliated with a center for anti-racist education, and he always has such vitality of ideas and freshness of perspective. Since I’ve become more and more convinced that a crisis of imagination inhibits the effectiveness of activists of all stripes, I’m particularly excited to reach his spin on the ideas and practices of especially creative thinkers.

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