Dr. King's Radical Internationalism is More Important Than Ever
It was Dr. King’s radical shift towards internationalism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism that frightened those in power by challenging their ability to use alternate methods of control in the post-civil rights era.
Third World Women's Alliance, New York, 1972., Luis Garza
Revered around the world for his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, by the end of his life Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had also radically expanded his political focus to an analysis that included sharp opposition to “international militarism, racism, imperialism and an unworkable capitalism that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.”
Beyond the end of legal segregation that the Civil Rights Movement achieved, Dr. King realized that in order to truly address the root of racial and economic oppression, “there cannot be a solution to the problem without a radical redistribution of economic and political power.” It was Dr. King’s radical shift towards internationalism, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism that frightened those in power by challenging their ability to use alternate methods of control in the post-civil rights era.
As we prepare to reclaim and amplify Dr. King’s radical legacy on MLK Day this Monday, we recognize that those in power are still threatened by the international solidarity that Dr. King was drawing on. Earlier this month, renowned abolitionist and Critical Resistance conference co-founder Angela Davis learned that the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was rescinding an award she was offered for her life’s work to advance human rights. The award was being rescinded because of her long held internationalist politics, and specifically for her unwavering support for Palestinian liberation.
In response to the institute’s decision, Davis explained that drawing international connections was not only crucial in her own experience combatting repression, but necessary for understanding our struggles as inherently bound together:
This seemed particularly unfortunate, given that my own freedom was secured – and indeed my life was saved – by a vast international movement. And I have devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to U.S. grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly. The rescinding of this invitation and the cancellation of the event where I was scheduled to speak was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice.
The “three evils” King spoke of - racism, poverty, and war – cannot be eliminated globally without the abolition of the prison industrial complex (PIC), and this struggle is by definition an international one. As an organization that wages fights against policing, imprisonment, and surveillance here in the US, we continually strive to understand how the PIC here supports and is fueled by systems of oppression and state violence across the world. More importantly, following the legacies of powerful leaders like Angela Davis and Dr. King, we seek to uplift international solidarity in our work at every turn.