Dr. Cornel West honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by going to jail

“We will not allow this day of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to go without somebody going to jail.” … Continued

“We will not allow this day of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to go without somebody going to jail.” After speaking those words on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, Princeton University professor
Dr. Cornel West was arrested.

LUCAS JACKSON

REUTERS

Philosopher Cornel West (C) stops to talk to demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street campaign in Zucotti Park near the financial district of New York September 29, 2011.

The Supreme Court was a fitting venue for this demonstration both to honor Dr. King and demonstrate solidarity with the #OWS (Occupy Wall Street) movement. As Dr. West, author of Race Matters, Democracy Matters and a new memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, said prior to being arrested, there is “a relation between corporate greed and what goes on too often in Supreme Court decisions.”

In Democracy Matters, West makes this point in far greater detail “(The) illicit marriage of corporate and political elites-so blatant and flagrant in our time-not only undermines the trust of informed citizens in those who rule over them. It also promotes the pervasive sleepwalking of the populace, who see that the false prophets are handsomely rewarded with money, status, and access to more power.” (p. 4)

Here’s the point: If you are content to think that corporations are people and money is speech, as the Supreme Court decided in the by a vote of 5-4, in their Citizens United v Federal Election Commission decision, then indeed you are sleepwalking through your citizenship and giving over your faith to false prophets.

I believe, when future accounts of this era are written, historians will judge that the wake up call for many people in America was in early 2010 with that Supreme Court decision. The winter of 2010 is what led to the #OWS demonstrations in the fall of 2011.

Can we as citizens accept this definition of person, and of speech? This is what Dr. West, by his action on the steps of the Supreme Court, is asking us to stop and ponder. Corporation as person? A soulless legal entity as human being? No. We can’t and we must not. As I have written before, God didn’t create corporations.

In his by now-famous dissent to the “Citizens United v Federal Election Commission,” ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens made this very clear:

“It might also be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

This is the issue that unites the #occupy rallies; corporations are not those for whom the Constitution was written and they cannot be those whom it protects with the rights owed to citizens who actually are “We the people.” There is a deep anger among people who are protesting at these rallies as illustrated by a picture circulating on my Facebook page of a sign at #OWS. It reads, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.” This theme resonates over and over again in other signs at #occupy rallies: ‘Corporations aren’t people.’”

But Dr. West did not call for anger, he actually called for “deep love” in his remarks before his arrest, and he spoke his solidarity even with the police, those who were about to arrest him.

This is worthy of another jail, at another time. In 1963, Dr. King wrote, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail,

Part of that letter is one of the fourteen inscriptions on the wall surrounding the new King Memorial: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Perhaps Dr. West would say he was on the steps of the Supreme Court for the same reason. According to his Web site, he spent Sunday night, October 16, “behind bars. He has been ordered to appear in court Monday at 1pm est to answer charges of trespassing on the steps of the Supreme Court.”

Another jail, another time, but the same issue: justice.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.