Activists Fight To Reclaim MLK’s More Radical Message Of Protest

From San Francisco to New York, protesters say MLK Day has become too commercialized and sanitized

A Black Lives Matter activist leads a protest in 2015. — REUTERS
Jan 18, 2016 at 12:42 PM ET

Activists rallied in more than 20 cities across the U.S. over the weekend leading into Martin Luther King Day, in an effort to “reclaim MLK Day”—bringing back Dr. King’s legacy as a dissident who fought against the social norms.

The effort is a continuation of a campaign that Black Lives Matter activists kicked off last year—and promoted with the #reclaimMLK hashtag—to revive the radical spirit of the civil rights movement. Now, diverse groups that support the cause have joined the campaign ahead of the Monday holiday marking MLK’s birthday.

From fast food employees to workers’ unions and Asian American communities, there appears to be a growing push to revitalize MLK Day as a time for activism, rather than observe it as a day of national service. “Unfortunately, Dr. King’s legacy has been clouded by efforts to soften, sanitize, and commercialize it,” says the Movement For Black Lives, based in Cleveland, Ohio.

The movement, which “demands lasting justice and true power over the destinies of our communities,” calls for a multi-tiered approach to reclaiming Martin Luther King Day that includes an increase in the power of grassroots communities alongside an investment in black communities and a divestment from “racist systems” like prisons and heavily armed police.

Vocativ’s analysis of the #reclaimMLK hashtag found that it appeared in more than 5,000 Instagram and Twitter posts since Sunday afternoon alone. Our geolocation technology showed that many of the posts were coming from churches across the southern U.S., where the hashtag was used to spark conversations in religious communities.

Rev. Russ May speaking to #DearWhiteChristian. #wskneelin #ReclaimMLK

A photo posted by Tejado Hanchell (@twh_phd) on

On Monday, dozens of protests across the country are planned in an effort to promote a message of renewed activism. Rallies are expected in New York City, Boston and Denver, and have already taken place in cities from Detroit to San Francisco.