Tribute to Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2006

Re: Judge Samuel Alito and the dream of
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Open letter to
Senator Herb Kohl and Senator Russ Feingold
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC

Dear Senators Kohl and Feingold

We have a dream. We dream of a new America. This is a dream deferred, not a vision that can wait until the next election. We dream this dream with our eyes wide open. We dream in daylight hours. We talk this dream in our families, offices, shops and churches.

Today America stands ready to make this decision.

Citizens are being assaulted from all quarters and our lives are swallowed up by the rights we have turned over to corporations and to our governments. Sadly, we have been slow to realize this error.

A battle is being fought in the Senate over the nomination of a corporate defender who is a kindly gentleman but one who has been sheltered by government assignments from the ravages of the free market economy. A benighted man who believes in the expansion of the power of government and its benevolent intentions, who believes in government’s joined-at-the-wallet ally, the corporation.

Gathered in support of this nomination are citizens who look incredulous when we say this government has drifted far from the American republic of representative government. They say that they have only begun to change America to their liking. And so I dream that one day they will understand I cannot go to their America with them.

We dream of a political party that embraces us. We know that we are taking casualties because we no longer have a political party to represent us.

The courts, too, have gone away.

Individual persons have ever more difficulty gaining access to the courtrooms of America and finding justice against the power of the corporation. Job discrimination, sexual harassment, environmental damage, and the theft of pensions are issues facing an ever steeper slope to the mountain top of equality before the law. The Promised Land of equality and freedom is no longer protected by the courts but has become a gated community of the few. Judge Samuel Alito has time and again supported their strategies. It is no wonder to sense the joy of those who have benefited from the work of his intellect.

We once dreamed that with the success of the American experiment and the conclusion of the cold war, our government would turn inward and reward the long suffering, cold-war-taxed citizen with the dual prize of health care and education so that our democracy would justify itself before the world with its protections of life and liberty and its pursuit of happiness.

Alas, we find incumbents in elected office becoming as lazy as bureaucrats, finessing money to prolong their careers and by so doing compromising the law to narrow concerns. Our elected official scramble for corporate money in its many disguises, and abandon the voter whom they placate in meaningless campaigns.

Democrats today are trying to put the best face they can on their decision not to fight the nomination of Samuel Alito, because they are afraid of a price—the next election, access to campaign money, or the damning words that will come from a servant media. A vote against his nomination may jeopardize personal political ambition.

Indeed it may, but I dream that the Senate will see this nominee for what he is—a defender of corporate and presidential privilege. He represents the engine that drove the cold war to American dominance, but we must recognize that that war has ended; our new enemy will require a new strategy, a different mode of war.

Judge Samuel Alito excels in the old battle but has no vision of the future that includes our contemporary enemies, both foreign and domestic. In fact, he has joined the domestic threat to our liberties.

What can we hope from the Senate?

People who live, love, work, dream, raise children and leave their blessings to their children are the America that now needs the government.

I dream that the paper that protects the rights of corporations will one day be subjected to the same electoral review that citizens exercise over their elected representatives; that the profit motive itself will be subject to the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that labor will again be prized and appropriately rewarded.

Judge Alito has ruled consistently in his years on the bench in favor of corporations over persons; of presidential power over Congress. This trend in a time of the grave dangers of the cold war and the massive threat represented by the Soviet Union may have had a justification; but today fighting the old war makes our place in the world more precarious not less.

Corporate power which now rules America and the many nations of the world must now be checked.

The battle we are engaged in today is wrong headed when the citizen and our freedoms are considered the enemy. The battle is wrong when the flowering of human liberty is considered a danger. The battle is wrong when we foster democracy abroad while it is abridged at home. The battle is wrong when we confuse the new enemy as if it were the resurrection of the old enemy. The battle is wrong when we come to suspect fellow citizens as dangerous. The battle is wrong when citizens are deprived of a stake in the outcome.

Judge Alito stands for the continuation of the cold war whose purpose was to fund a military industrial complex capable of standing up to a dangerous enemy. Judge Alito needs to be rejected because he represents the success of a war that has ended, and the albatross on the war we must now fight. It is not corporate and economic dominance that will save America from its contemporary enemies. Honesty to our founding principles, with its world-wide appeal, is an invitation.

America must now set out on a course of building our own democracy, reinstating our personal freedoms, removing government from the most intimate corners of our lives, encouraging an economic engine that rewards struggling upstart businesses and prunes out the indolent or dead branches of an old economy.

We dream of judges who view America through the eyes of its citizens. Judge Samuel Alito has marked his life far afield from the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., and must now step back from this brink to allow a new generation of wisdom govern our country.

William Sell


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