The Dream vs. the Nightmare

The MLK Day march becomes a referendum on Tom DeLay and Ronnie Earle

MLK Day marchers, including Austin NAACP 
President Nelson Linder (center, in baseball cap), 
protest recent killings of African-Americans by Austin 
MLK Day marchers, including Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder (center, in baseball cap), protest recent killings of African-Americans by Austin police. (Photo By John Anderson)

Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration and march might easily have been confused with either an anti-redistricting rally or a "Dump Ronnie Earle" demonstration, because it turned out to be both and more. Among several premarch speakers on the south steps of the Capitol, Lloyd Doggett, currently the congressman for the eastern half of Travis Co. but soon to be fighting for his political life in a newly drawn District 25 stretching from Northeast Austin to McAllen, was the first to invoke the name of Tom DeLay and his redistricting jihad aimed at weakening Democratic (and hence, minority) power in the state. "To those who say this is stupid, this is silly, this is weird, let me say you are wrong," said Doggett, one of DeLay's primary targets. "There is nothing stupid about it -- it was cleverly and painstakingly designed to assure that no Austinite speaks out in Washington." He compared King's dream of racial equality with "Tom DeLay's dream," which would be fulfilled "by pitting race against race."

A visibly angry Austin state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, shouting into the microphone until she lost her voice, echoed that theme even more forcefully: "If I stood up here and I talked to you about how we have embraced the dream in Texas and in the United States, it would be a flat-out lie," Dukes said. "If I said to you that those who lead this land are working to ensure voting rights, it would be a flat-out lie. ... Everything that Dr. King has fought for -- civil rights, economic equality, quality of education, health care -- everything right now is under attack." She pointed out yet another sign of the national fortress mentality: On the new voter registration cards, potential ballot-casters must flip the card over and check a box certifying that they are U.S. citizens -- "otherwise, the card will be thrown out." (It's an easy deduction which precincts will have the most challenges on those grounds.)

Dukes introduced several elected officials at the rally whom she described as fighting for King's vision. Of more than a dozen dignitaries on hand, only Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle drew boos, reflecting anger that Earle did not more vigorously prosecute indictments against the Austin and Travis Co. officers who shot and killed three black Austinites over the past year and a half. At one point, Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder yelled at Earle that he "shouldn't use Dr. King's name" and carried a sign reading "Force Out Ronnie Earle." Other signs carried the names of those who were shot: Sophia King, Lennon Johnson, and Jessie Lee Owens.

Democrats weren't the only politicians speechifying before the march, but, listening to state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, one might wonder in which party primary she'll be running come 2006. She decried the fact that Texas is "dead last in children's health insurance" and said, "We can be leaner, not meaner." She added, "I would rather spend $72 on health insurance than $6,000 on emergency-room visits. I would rather spend $2,100 on education than $15,000 on incarceration." Clearly, she forgot to clear that rhetoric with GOP headquarters beforehand.

Other speakers included UT President Larry Faulkner, who noted that when he began his tenure at UT six years ago, he spoke to MLK marchers in the shadow of the Hopwood decision and this time was celebrating the return of affirmative action to the admissions progress in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's University of Michigan decision allowing it.

Marchers left the Capitol grounds and proceeded into East Austin, marching down 11th Street to an all-day MLK festival on the grounds of Huston-Tillotson College. Most inappropriate moment of the march: passing by the parked pickup truck with a Confederate flag painted onto its back window. Most out-of-place marcher: the cowboy-hatted young white man wearing a Bush/Cheney T-shirt, amid what was otherwise a decidedly left-of-center and Bush-bashing crowd. Most lame coverage: Yet again, the Austin American-Statesman produced an utterly sanitized version of events, completely ignoring all of the above. (Last year, despite thousands of marchers practically converting the march into a peace rally against the impending Iraq war, the Statesman confined mention of anti-war protesters to the last two paragraphs.)

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Keywords: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ronnie Earle, Lloyd Doggett, Tom DeLay, Dawnna Dukes, Nelson Linder, Sofia King, Lennon Johnson, Jessie Lee Owens, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Larry Faulkner

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