January 22, 2021 in Op-Eds by

The Era of Revolution Is Now

Activists hung banners over freeways around Portland, including this one hanging over I-84 on NE 60th St

Anti-Fascist Activists Dropped Banners Across Portland on MLK Day

In the twilight hours of Sunday morning, several autonomously organized groups of activists unveiled a series of banner drops and signage across Portland. Their message: “Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Era of Revolution’ is NOW!!” The banners and signage, which numbered fifteen in total, were placed in strategic locations throughout the city; some hung over the I-5 and I-84 freeways, some were placed on buildings, and one banner was strung up in the trees directly across the street from Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct along NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. In addition to the banners reading the aforementioned slogan, there were other banners and signs reading “I’m tired living everyday under the threat of death,” “Black Lives They Matter Here,” and “Landlord Abolition is Hot Girl Shit.”

This is not the first time this collective has been responsible for a massive messaging campaign throughout Portland. The collective, referred to on social media as BLM PDX Winter, also unveiled a series of banners and signs throughout Portland at the end of December last year. The community action on December 22 blanketed Portland in “Black Lives Matter” banners, a testament to the organization of Portland’s activist groups staying dedicated to the cause well into the winter, bolstered by half a year of forming concrete community bonds (often through shared trauma at the hands of local, state, and federal law enforcement). 

A banner hangs from the trees in the median across the street from the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct

The powerful message to commemorate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and its implications for the current generation’s continued struggle for Black liberation was taken from a report he made to the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) staff in May of 1967, in which he stated:

“We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights,
an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about
the whole society. We have been in a reform movement… But after Selma
and the voting rights bill, we moved into a new era, which must be the era
of revolution. We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now
until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”

Throughout the decades following Dr. King’s passing, there has been a deliberate erasure of the more radical, anti-racist facets of his teachings when presented to America’s schoolchildren. While most American schoolchildren may recall the opening words of the famous speech he made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, many may not know that he was an ardent believer in the redistribution of wealth as a means of not only Black liberation but for the alleviation of poverty for all races. Most are not taught of the importance Dr. King held to acts of non-violent direct action, in which a community is encouraged to take focused anti-racist action by putting their physical bodies on the line when injustice is rampant. This deliberate erasure of Dr. King’s legacy pacified the Reverend’s message and allowed racist notions of anti-blackness to continue to thrive, by attempting to teach generations of children the lie that our society exists in a post-racial world. A more thorough analysis of his teachings immediately reveals that his position was much more radical than conventional historical teaching would like to admit. As Jenn M. Jackson explains in an article for TeenVogue dated January 15th, 2018:

“The sanitized version of King’s life and work — the colorblind ‘I have a dream’ narrative — often fails to acknowledge how King’s increasing profile as a radical, anti-racist organizer drew antagonism from the FBI and its director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, which began as early as 1964, four years before he was assassinated.”

A banner hangs from an unfinished high rise  apartment complex reading “Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Era of Revolution’ is Now”

Sadly, Dr. King would never see such an era of revolution occur; his life was cut short with his assassination less than a year later. Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, would go on to lead the movement of nonviolent resistance in his stead. However, the passing of the magnanimous civil rights icon had a tremendous impact on this period of Black liberation. A new chapter of more militant Black Power movements would be ignited in its place, such as the Black Panthers and the MOVE family in Philadelphia. But the seeds of Dr. King’s legacy would go on to inspire entire generations into the 21st century, culminating in 2020, which was host to the largest human rights movement the world has ever seen. Douglas McAdam, professor emeritus at Stanford University, was quoted in a New York Times article on July 3, 2020:

“It looks, for all the world, like these protests are achieving what very few do: setting in motion a period of significant, sustained, and widespread social, political change… We appear to be experiencing a social change tipping point — that is as rare in society as it is potentially consequential.”

With activist groups clearly willing to carry the torch well into the cold and wet winter months, a rocky political climate ripe for lasting, meaningful change, and a thriving network of community-focused mutual aid and support organizations, the message is clear: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Era of Revolution” is now, and it’s up to all of us to continue the work that he championed over 65 years ago.

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