Lobbying day fitting for King day

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, January 21, 2020

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Given the antipathy with which numerous members of the Virginia General Assembly accepted the creation of Martin Luther King Day more than three decades ago, it has now morphed into something for which all Virginians should be proud.

When the holiday was first created, the General Assembly paired it with Lee-Jackson Day, which had been established to honor the two Confederate generals.

Nobody was terribly happy with the union. Die-hard conservatives who wished to keep the myth of the Lost Cause alive couldn’t imagine paying tribute to Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewell Jackson on the same day that the leader of the modern Civil Rights Movement was being remembered.

But, to be honest, the irony of paying tribute to the nation’s greatest civil rights leader the same day the state lionized two men largely responsible for trying to dissolve the union, primarily to preserve slavery, wasn’t lost on MLK’s admirers either. Nor should it have been.

In typical Virginia fashion, a Majority of legislators voted in 2000 to separate the two holidays. Lee-Jackson Day was moved to Friday, thus conveniently making a four-day weekend for employees of the commonwealth.

The official M.L. King Day has now become the unofficial “Lobbying Day,” when Virginians are invited to come to Richmond and buttonhole their delegates and senators with their views of what is best for the commonwealth.

And Monday, they came in droves. Many of them came this year to lobby against any form of gun control. While I personally think reasonable gun regulations — some of which were in place a couple of decades ago and more recently repealed — are overdue. That said, the adherents of no controls have as much right to be heard as those who favor control over firearms.

What I find altogether appropriate, though, is setting aside the day named in honor of the nation’s foremost civil rights leader as a special day for Virginians to express their views on the business of governance. And I think Martin Luther King would agree with using this day in his honor as a day in which to debate the many issues that affect our lives. 

The goals that King espoused throughout his life might well differ from those of the Virginia Citizens Defense, League or at least a number of its members, but he would quite likely have supported their right to be heard, because the right to be at the table of public dialogue and decision-making was a cornerstone of the movement he fostered.

It’s also worth noting that Monday’s protests were peaceful, and that, far more than the messages brought to Richmond by the protesters, was a tribute to Martin Luther King.

Dr. King was speaking specifically to African Americans on Aug. 28, 1963 when he gave his immortal “I have a dream” speech, but his words that day speak to all Americans in 2020.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence,” he said.

There are proposals to simply do away with Lee-Jackson Day, and the time has come to at least have that debate, but I am very happy to see that Virginians have turned Martin Luther King Day into an opportunity for everyone who is interested in the impact of government on our lives to come together and express our views.