Recapturing the revolutionary spirit
What: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference
WHEN: Jan. 14-16
Cost: Free; registration is required
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
As a freshman member of Congress, Cori Bush was inside the Capitol building on Weds., Jan. 6 when the President of the United States incited a mob attack designed to halt the counting of Electoral College votes solidifying President-Elect Joe Biden’s win. A crowd of rioters forced their way through barricades and past Capitol security before breaking their way into the building, where they roamed through the halls of Congress, the Rotunda, and the Senate chamber waving Confederate flags, spouting pro-Trump talking points, and bringing violence and racism directly to the nation’s doorstep.
Bush, a Democrat representing Missouri, looked through the windows onto the steps of the House gallery shortly before the crowd started breaking windows to gain entry and realized trouble was on its way. She and her team made it back to their office just as the rioters breached the building, but she saw enough to know what was happening wasn’t a protest—it was a coup.
In Ferguson, Bush was a leader of the 2014 protests for Black lives following the police killing of Michael Brown, so she was also keenly aware that had those who stormed the Capitol been a more racially diverse crowd, the outcome would’ve been vastly different.
“Watching what happened on the television and looking out of the door, seeing what was happening while I was there—it’s not what we were doing fighting for Black lives,” Rep. Bush told NPR on the day of the attack. “This is not it. We were fighting in defense of people’s lives, making sure that people could have a decent quality of life. And the thing is, what we were witnessing today was a bunch of people who were upset because they want to side with a president who is not for all the people; a president who has decided that he wants to hold on to something that isn’t his. And so they want to stand with a person, with a character, with a personality versus making sure that they are upholding and uplifting our democracy. So that’s what we were witnessing. It was not a protest. It was a coup. It was a domestic terror attack.”
In the days preceding Whatcom Human Rights Task Force’s 23rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference, Rep. Bush has introduced a resolution calling on the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Republican members violated their oaths of office by seeking to overturn the results of the fair election. Sanctions could include the removal of “any and all” members of Congress who have been working to invalidate the votes of Black, brown and Indigenous people.
It’s an action Dr. King assuredly would’ve approved of, especially when viewed in the lens of WHRTF’s 2021 conference—“Recapturing the Revolutionary Spirit: Dangerous Unselfishness.” The theme is related to a message King referenced in his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address on April 3, 1968, less than 24 hours before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
More than 50 years after that speech, King’s words still resonate. And with warnings from the FBI that armed protests are being planned in advance of Biden’s inauguration at capitols across the United States from Jan. 16-20, they take on an even deeper meaning.
“We have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it,” King said on that fateful spring day. “Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men for years now have been talking about war and peace. But now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”
Later, he extolled those gathered to listen to him that, even if they were challenged, to stand up with a greater determination to make America what it ought to be—a better nation where injustices were righted, people of color were treated equally, and where perseverance and patience were rewarded.
While you’re participating in the virtual events that comprise this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference—an event that every year invokes Dr. King’s ideals of equity, freedom and self-determination—keep his missives in mind as they relate to our country’s current crisis.
“Poetry of Revolt,” a livestreamed event taking place from 5:30pm-8:30pm Thurs., Jan. 14 will kick off the weekend with poets from across the Pacific Northwest and beyond sharing their prose as a form of resistance, revolt and healing. They include Romeo Romero, Rena Priest, Danny Canham, PoetryNMotion, and more, and all that’s needed to take part is to register in advance to secure a spot.
Starting at 6pm Fri., Jan. 15, tune in for the conference opening and keynote webinar. The night’s lineup will include an inspirational group of community members, educators and social justice warriors, and will begin with a land acknowledgement, a welcome by Lummi Nation elder William John, and opening remarks by Dr. Kathi Hiyane-Brown, President of Whatcom Community College.
The keynote address will follow. Facilitated by Shu-Ling Zhao, “Reservoir of Hope: Artists of Revolution” will include panelists Ed Bereal, Jay Chavez (AKA Sue Nami-Meadows), and Ebony Harris. The multigenerational collective of artists will discuss life, the universe, art, race, the lives and role of artists in a social change ecosystem, and the reservoir of hope people derive from each other that is pivotal in the struggle for liberation.
From 9am-4pm Sat., Jan. 16, sessions will feature a range of presentation formats including performance art, films and caucuses in addition to standard workshop fare. As usual, the events are free and open to all, and discourse is welcomed.
“Now is the time for every member of this community—individuals, organizations, business leaders and public officials—to take responsibility for the legacy we will leave for future generations: one of tolerance and inclusion or an acceptance of hatred and bigotry,” members of the Whatcom Human Right Task Force wrote in October in a petition denouncing the rising signs of white supremacy on the local front and beyond. “The time for silence has long passed, as evidenced by the increasing boldness of those who intend to sow seeds of fear within our community. If we are to foster an environment of diversity and inclusion, we must publicly stand up to denounce hate.”
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