by German Lopez
The civil rights icon embraced many progressive causes
If his speeches and other comments are any indication,
Martin Luther King Jr. would likely stand in sharp opposition to modern
Ohio Republicans and many of their proposed policies.
In reviewing King’s work, speeches and quotes, it’s clear
he was a progressive on a wide range of issues — from voting rights to collective bargaining rights to
reproductive rights. In contrast, modern Republicans are doing their
best to dilute such rights and scale back progressive causes on a host
of other issues.
Given that it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what
better time to look back at some of King’s positions and analyze what
they could mean in terms of today’s politics? Warning: The results might upset some Republicans.
On voting rights:
“So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the
right to vote, I do not possess myself,” King said, according to PBS. “I
cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a
democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact — I can
only submit to the edict of others.”King and other civil rights activists saw the right
to vote as the most crucial stepping stone to equality. In fact, one of the defining accomplishments of the Civil Rights
Movement was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which attempted to ban discrimination
in the voting booth.
“Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient
misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into calculated good deeds of orderly
citizens,” King said.
More specifically, the Voting Rights Act helped undo
several voting restrictions taken up against minority voters in the South. The restrictions rarely outright banned black voters; instead,
Southerners took up backhanded standards, such as literacy tests and
poll taxes, that many black voters couldn’t meet.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because, by at least one top
Ohio Republican’s admission, growing restrictions on early voting also
help curtail black voters — who, by the way, happen to vote for Democrats in
“I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the
voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American —
voter-turnout machine,” said Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin
County Republican Party and close adviser to Gov. John Kasich, in an
email to The Columbus Dispatch.
In other states, Republicans are taking similarly restrictive approaches
and passing stringent voter ID laws, even though one study found it discriminates against young, minority voters.Especially given Preisse’s comments, it’s clear King would not approve of Republican actions. King saw enough oppression in Southern voting booths to know better.On labor unions and “right to work”:
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard
against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a
law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to
destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which
unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone,” King
said, according to the Economic Policy Institute. “Wherever these laws
have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there
are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We
demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”In this statement, King unequivocally disavows restrictions on unions and collective bargaining rights.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kasich and top Ohio Republicans remain mum
on whether they support anti-union laws like “right to work,” much to
the chagrin of tea party groups that strongly support such efforts.
But it’s clear Kasich and Ohio Republicans support some
restrictions on unions and collective bargaining. In 2011, the
Republican-controlled legislature and governor approved Senate Bill 5, a
bill that significantly curtailed public unions and their collective
Almost immediately, labor unions rallied in opposition to
the effort and took the issue to referendum. Voters overwhelmingly
rejected S.B. 5 the following November, dealing a major blow to Republicans and a huge
political boost to unions and Democrats.Despite the rejection, some conservatives continue pushing anti-union causes. The
tea party-backed group Ohioans for Workplace Freedom aims to get an
anti-union “right to work” initiative on the ballot in 2014.Considering King’s strong pro-union statements, it’s clear he would stand against Ohio Republicans’ and the tea party’s anti-union efforts if he lived today. On the death penalty:
“I do not think God approves the death penalty for any
crime — rape and murder included,” King said, according to Stanford
University. “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern
criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in
the nature of God.”King’s comment clearly disavows the death penalty, even
for the gravest crimes, based on his religious perspective and
study of criminology.
Perhaps more than any other issue on this list, King’s stance on the death penalty could upset some Democrats as much as some Republicans. But even though support for the death penalty crosses partisan lines, it’s much more pronounced on the Republican side of the spectrum.
In recent days, the debate over the death penalty reignited in Ohio after Gov. Kasich’s administration took 26 minutes to execute a gasping, grunting convicted killer with a new cocktail of drugs that was never tried before in the United States.
The prolonged execution, the longest since Ohio resumed
use of the death penalty in 1999, led some legislative Democrats to push
new limits or even an outright ban on capital punishment. It’s expected
the Republican majority will ignore the bills.Based on his claims, King would oppose the state-sanctioned killing of a convicted killer, and he certainly would reject any defense that touts vengeance as a justification for killing another human being.On health care:
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care
is the most shocking and inhuman,” King said, according to Dr. Quentin
Young, who attended King’s speech at the 1966 convention of the Medical
Committee for Human Rights.
Whether King’s quote indicates support for Democrat-backed
legislation like Obamacare or other measures, such as a single-payer
system, is completely unclear. But King’s rhetoric certainly comes
closer to Democrats’ support for universal access to health care than Republicans’
opposition to governmental incursions into the U.S. health care
To Gov. Kasich’s credit, he helped alleviate the
“inequality” and “injustice in health care” King referred to by
aggressively pursuing the federally funded Medicaid expansion.But Kasich was in the minority of the Ohio Republican
Party in his pursuit. The state legislature’s Republican majority
refused to approve the Medicaid expansion in the two-year state budget
and later bills. When Kasich finally got the Medicaid expansion done
through the seven-member Controlling Board, several legislative
Republicans joined an unsuccessful lawsuit to reverse the decision.Accordingly, King would probably praise Kasich for opening up access to health care, and it’s doubtful he would support Republicans in their attempts to block health care for the poor.On reproductive rights:
“For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family
planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security
and a decent life,” King said, according to Planned Parenthood. “There
are mountainous obstacles still separating Negroes from a normal
existence. Yet one element in stabilizing his life would be an
understanding of and easy access to the means to develop a family
related in size to his community environment and to the income potential
he can command.”King’s comments on reproductive rights came as he accepted the first round of the Margaret Sanger Awards from Planned Parenthood, an organization now demonized by Republicans for its support for abortion and reproductive rights.
Now, nothing in King’s comments implies he supported
abortion rights, even though some historians believe King, a strong Christian,
accepted a more liberal interpretation of the Bible.But King’s comments — and even his mere acceptance of the
Planned Parenthood award — show strong support for reproductive
rights for low-income men and women. In that respect, King is clearly
going against Ohio Republicans’ pursuits.
In the 2014-2015 state budget, a Republican majority
passed new funding restrictions on Planned Parenthood and other
comprehensive family planning centers. Some of the restrictions hit
family planning clinics that don’t offer abortions.
Even though King’s stance on abortion is unclear, his
comments clearly contradict efforts to restrict access to family
planning clinics and reproductive rights. Once again, he would not approve of the Republican agenda.