The politicians put on their game faces but they could feel it - the vibrations, the subsonic murmuring, the barely audible low resonant rumble that seemed to emanate from everywhere.
The rumbling from all the grumbling.
There was no escaping it.
Everything was broken.
Nothing was getting fixed.
Everyone was pissed.
The traditional end-of-the-year cluster of holidays provided a slight reprieve. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years. But frustration built quickly following the hollow cheers and generally anemic celebrations. Santa wasn't very good to people this year. Unemployment actually went up in December when normally seasonal hiring gave a boost to the labor statistics. The lines at soup kitchens were getting longer and the soup looking more like dishwater each passing day. The entire population was on a hair-trigger.
Monday January 16th was a national holiday. Martin Luther King Day.
As unfathomable as it seemed, there were still people who didn't know who Martin Luther King was. A truck driver interviewed in Arkansas by a CNN reporter replied, Oh yeah, him. The fight guy who used to manage Mike Tyson. The guy with with the tall hair. That was Don King, dimwad.
Others had heard of him but weren't quite sure what his place was in history or why there was a holiday. A coed at Bob Jones University wrote an article for the school paper titled, Why Martin Luther King Started the Luthern Church. Ah! Martin Luther King was a 16th Century German monk. So America gave him his own national holiday. Got it.
Ignorance wasn't bliss, however. Some strange and disturbing things happened this particular MLK holiday and the week that followed, which hinted at the vast cauldron of turbulence coming to a boil in the deep subconscious of the country.
The weekend before the official holiday, the American Dairy Association launched a massive advertising blitz, along the lines of hundreds of similar ones it had been running for several years. This one was called 'Got MLK?' It featured the most famous portrait photo of the great civil rights leader Photoshopped with a white mustache of fresh milk on Dr. King's upper lip. This remarkable work of advertising genius - a public relations faux pas of cosmic proportions guaranteed to end the careers of the pitbull ad team that created it - was everywhere. Billboards, internet ads, television spots, magazines and newspapers.
The right wing went nuts. It was bad enough having Beyonce or Shaquille O'Neal staring back at you in these obnoxious ads with the milk mustache, but to have to look at a proven commie, pinko turncoat like that Martin Luther King SOB, a rabble-rousing enemy of good patriotic Americans, having those big lips grin that know-it-all shit-eating grin while making it look like he'd be drinking anything other than cheap wine or sterno, was an outrage. Everybody knew all these negro types were lactose intolerant anyway. What a pile of lefty propaganda! What a total pile of shit!
Fox News led the harangue practically non-stop, then of course the other media outlets not to be left out followed suit. Soon the fever pitch of hysterical commentary boiled like a crock pot which had been welded to a stove which couldn't be turned off. A never-ending stream of self-righteous acrimony and disdainful disbelief bubbled over and spewed out of suit-and-tie talking heads and bouffanted bubble brains. Got MLK? was a total field day for the freaks of the far right.
The left wing also went nuts. A non-stop harangue condemning the virulent racism and umbridled bigotry of the right, thundered away on MSNBC and raged on over hundreds of progressive internet web sites, in a media counteroffensive, which took left wing whining and opining to new heights of pre-menstrual hysteria. Latte-sipping liberals quietly indignant that the image of such a great man had been so crudely desecrated and that commercial exploitation had stooped to such crass levels could barely be heard. They pouted and bought a nice bottle 1989 Portofino to anesthetize their bleeding hearts.
But it was the African-American community, especially those living in urban ghettos which had been the main beneficiary of just about everything that was going wrong in America, the beaten down who could only look forward to being beaten even more while they were down, who took the protests over the tasteless and offensive misappropriation of a great black man, to a whole new level.
From New Orleans to New York, Houston to Detroit, Philadelphia to San Francisco, Atlanta to Seattle, from the black ghettos of D.C. to the black ghettos of Los Angeles, and every place in between where African-Americans constituted a significant chunk of the population, the streets will filled with infuriated marchers. Some of the demonstrations were peaceful, many more resembling a street dance than a political uprising. The majority, however, rapidly evolved into all out insurrection, with piles of rubbish, automobiles and buses set ablaze. Windows were smashed, stores looted, and unpopular owners of local convenience stores dragged into the streets and beaten. Several ordinary citizens with rifles were observed standing on rooftops shooting at whatever passed in the streets below. In seven major cities, sundown to sunrise curfews were imposed and the National Guard called in to try to restore order.
One incident which occurred right on the National Mall in Washington D.C. dominated the news media for three days and truly polarized the nation. Tensions were higher than at any time since the riots in Los Angeles in 1992 over the police beating of Rodney King.
Two officers in a patrol car noticed suspicious activity occurring at the base of the Lincoln Memorial and on the statue itself. They called for backup and shortly five black adolescents, age 17 to 19 were arrested and taken in to be booked for defacement of public property. But not before they had completed the job they had come to do.
They had just painted a big mustache in white enamel house paint on Abraham Lincoln and hung a huge sign on the chest of the historic figure. It was what was on the sign that caused most of the controversy.
Local officials and politicos were so outraged that they demanded the young men be additionally charged with acts of terrorism, in violation of the Patriot Acts I and II. And because of unfounded rumors unleashed on the floor of the House of Representatives in a speech by a fanatic congressman from Mississippi, they were also being investigated for possible connections to blacklisted Muslim terrorist cells in Yemen and the Philippines.
Viewers of ABC's This Week, one of the more popular Sunday morning news talk shows, sipped coffee and nodded their tacit approval over an exchange between George Will and the show's host and regular anchor, Christian Amanpour, about the incident.
I don't know where they're going with that. Meaning the Homeland Security people. Maybe they know something we don't. But from what I can tell, these are just punks from right there in D.C. who took a break from pimping or pushing drugs or whatever other insidious things they've got going on, to disparage one of our greatest presidents.
I completely agree. I don't get the symbolism here. It seems contradictory. I mean, Abraham Lincoln was the man who gave them their freedom.
Well, one of the more articulate gangbangers, one that could at least speak some English I could understand, said something to the effect that, yes, they should be free now but that's not the way things have worked out. They are still being oppressed by the white man.
That's gratitude for you.
The follow-up ad campaign by the advertising agency that came up with the original idea was put on hold. It was called 'MLK
does a body good!' and featured Martin Luther King's head Photoshopped on the body of Denzel Washington muscle-posing in a Speedo.