Martin Luther King Day and the anniversary of Citizens United fall on the same day this year. Some might think the two have nothing to do with each other. After all, King was concerned about race and Citizens United has to do with the role of corporations in American society. This perspective, however, depends on a sanitized version of Martin Luther King. It focuses on I Have a Dream and ignores Beyond Vietnam (see here). It is well known that King opposed the war in Vietnam, but few remember why. It was not just because the war gobbled up resources that could have been used to help the American poor or that it brutalized our soldiers (with disproportionate impact on blacks) and the Vietnamese or that it violated basic principles of Christianity.
King argued that our foreign policy was consistently on the wrong side of a world revolution. We had allowed our foreign policy to be guided by the interests of investors even if it meant supporting brutal dictators. He said that, “the role our nation has taken [is the] the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.” If I Have a Dream focused on the end of racism, Beyond Vietnam confronted the systemic aspects of the evil that needed to be confronted: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Only a distorted view of Martin Luther King can obscure his recognition of the dangers of corporate power in our political process. It makes sense that we would honor Dr. King and oppose Citizens United on the same day. The two causes are one.