DMI Blog

Kia Franklin

On MLK and Civil Justice

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that "the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct"--the instinct to set oneself ahead of the pack, at the forefront, to distinguish oneself--into a life motivated by service to others and furtherance of an agenda for justice and equality. He said:

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.

What made King a drum major in these respects was his willingness to speak truth to power. He was not shy about identifying and standing up against the social inequities of his time, many of which persist to this day. He transformed the drum major instinct into a mission to serve humanity and advance an agenda for fairness and equality, even if it meant being unpopular or standing up against his own government and some of its most powerful players, including Lyndon Johnson.

On DMI's blog we discuss the importance of the civil justice system, and sometimes get involved in very specific and narrow aspects of the tort “reform” debate. These conversations are important, but it is equally important to step back every now and then and ask how this fits more broadly into a dialogue about justice through the law, and into the even larger movement for social justice in which King played such a key role.

A staple tool in the fight against societal injustices in this country has been, and remains, the civil court system. People rely upon their legal rights to help secure a more responsive government, one which protects people and doesn't put the desires of powerful interest groups ahead of the needs of ordinary citizens. And the courts provide people with a means to assert those rights.

The fight for access to the courts is about much more than what opponents say in order to trivialize the struggle. They say it is all about money, when really it is all about making sure that regardless of how rich or poor a person is, each person has the right to demand fair and decent treatment. They say it is about enriching lawyers, when really it is about empowering ordinary people so they can fight for what they need and deserve in order to live a good life: physical safety and health, economic security and freedom from fraudulent activity, the freedom to express their thoughts, protection from unnecessary harm, and the ability to work diligently and earn a living for their families without being exploited or discriminated against.

Dr. King said that "justice is indivisible; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." The fight for civil justice seeks to restore balance to an unequal power dynamic which makes it difficult for ordinary Americans to uphold their legal rights. Corporate interests have had more than their share of influence on the courts and our government. TortDeform asks why this is, shows the benefits of the court system when it does work fairly, and discusses how ordinary people can work to create a stronger civil justice system. In this way it seeks to fulfill one of the lesser-discussed aspects of King's vision of economic justice and equal rights for all Americans--a civil justice system that truly delivers on the promise of "justice for all."

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Posted at 4:50 PM, Jan 19, 2009 in Civil Justice
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