[Image: A large group of people, many carrying signs, marches down a San Francisco street.]
This Monday I attended a march and interfaith ceremony to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As the web site where I originally found out about the activities had incomplete information, I missed the start of the march at the Caltrain Depot, but met up with the group a few blocks later as they approached the Lefty O’Doul Bridge.
The march ended at Yerba Buena Gardens, where the San Francisco Interfaith Council hosted a ceremony. One of the speakers was Mayor Ed Lee, who has been booed at a number of San Francisco events owing (partly) to the gentrification and racist police violence in this city. In contrast, this time he was received with applause when he called out “I am you! You are me!” to the crowd, and made a stand against Donald Trump.
Though I appreciated the latter, as San Francisco officials have made it clear that we will be a sanctuary city, I didn’t particularly care for the “I am you” statement. Mayor Lee is a person of color, but he is not black. As an act of allyship to black people on a holiday recognizing one of our own, “I am for you” might have been a more appropriate (if still debatable, in his case) statement. I also don’t think he should have marched at the very front of the parade.
The regrettable (but predictable) whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr. as a peaceful* unifier of all races, while downplaying his radical activism, was emphasized in the ReclaimMLK actions I attended last year. You can even see the whitewashed message in this year’s MLK Google Doodle, which shows a group of stylized people of different colors holding hands, rather than an image of King himself. (At least the doodle was created by a black artist, Keith Mallett.)
Between the “unity” message and the religious nature of the ceremony at Yerba Buena, I was regretting not attending this year’s ReclaimMLK march in Oakland instead. (Only black and brown people were invited to be in the front of last year’s march.)
Regardless, the ceremony had bright spots. One strong singer led us in multiple verses (in between other speakers) of “We Shall Overcome”, with the lyrics changed from “someday” to “today”. Two mothers spoke of losing their sons to violence. One little girl gave a speech with such a powerful voice that she got a standing ovation.
As I wandered away from the stage, fatigued and tired of jockeying for position with another photographer, I heard another powerful voice speaking. I came back to hear Reverend Dr. Amos C. Brown, a student of Dr. King. I later recalled Brown as a friend to the LGBT+ community; I photographed him at another interfaith ceremony in June 2013, on the day Californians achieved same-sex marriage equality.
Rev. Brown spoke about a black woman who “had the nerve” to tell him that Donald Trump was a good person who should be respected, in part because he played basketball with some black kids in Harlem. He said that woman needed to “come and sit at his feet” and learn a thing or two. (Aside from the sexism of a woman sitting at a man’s feet, I agreed with the sentiment.)
[Image: The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. engraved into a wall: “No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.’]
After the ceremony, festivities continued with music and other events, but I didn’t have the energy to stick around. Before leaving, I did wander over to read some of the words under the beautiful Martin Luther King Memorial waterfall, a key feature of the Gardens.
My full set of images from the event is available on Flickr. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!
* I am a pacifist, but pacifism should not be confused with passivity. I support radical actions.