By Jim Hightower on February 04, 2014

I've noticed that local celebrations of Martin Luther King Day tend to be unique, for they've generally not been turned into yet another excuse for beer and barbecue parties.

Rather than trivialize the meaning of this courageous man's life, most people treat the day as a moment of serious reflection. Many even memorialize it by vowing to confront the Powers That Be on some of the BIG issues that Rev. King asked America to redress, such as entrenched racial inequality and the exploitation of poverty-wage workers.

But now I've learned that joining the gritty struggle for justice is not the proper way to honor King. No, no -- 'tis a far better thing you do if you just traipse down to a local McDonald's outlet, order a Happy Meal, and join the joyous, integrated, Golden Arches family in singing a few verses of Kumbayah.

At least, that's what the world's largest hamburger chain urged us to do in a shameless PR campaign. It used this year's MLK Day to try whitewashing its own sorry record of worker mistreatment. One full-page ad pictured three McDonald's "crew-members," each one a person of color, beaming with delight above ad copy that extolled the corporation's commitment to "a diverse and inclusive workforce."

I think Dr. King would've upchucked, and asked: "What about a workforce that's paid a living wage, with benefits -- so they don't have to work second or third jobs and go on food stamps to subsidize the labor costs of this miserly, superrich, fast-food empire?"

The touchy-feely ad turned to total squish at the end, calling on all Americans to embrace their differences: "We can't imagine a better way to honor [King's] day than by doing just that," it gushed.

Dr. King, however, had a sharper imagination. He would've helped the workers unionize McDonald's to gain real justice for themselves.

Listen to this commentary:

Photo: Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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