KING CALLED CITIZENS TO HIGHER CIVILIZATION

January 20, 2002 11:00 pm

Judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That was part of Martin Luther King Juniors I Have a Dream speech. Today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day we celebrate the black American clergyman and civil rights leaders lifetime of achievements.

That life was cut short in 1968 by an assassins bullets. But the assassin failed to put a dent in Kings legacy of peace and racial equality, which lives on to this day.

Why should we in predominately white Northeast Oregon care about Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Because we are all people looking for a fair shake in life, people looking for justice. Kings words eloquently pushed for this fairness and justice, just as the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, did a century earlier.

King received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize in part for his advocacy of non-violent protest. He taught his followers, and all of us for that matter, the difference between constructive and destructive anger, and the importance of tolerance: to remain respectful of those with whom we disagree.

But King would be the first to say it is OK to respectfully disagree. He respected differences in other people and helped build consensus. Among the results of Kings community building were the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act as he encouraged the government to attend to collective needs in a civilized society.

Sure, King was an imperfect human being. Arent we all? But he did have the ability to recognize common needs and call Americans to a higher level of civilization and service. Since 1983, America has set aside the third Monday in January to remember Kings birthday and his accomplishments in unifying the country. We should take time today to remember King and the idea that one person can make a difference. We should also remember the dog days of the civil rights movement, and recall the words of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

CALMING THE BOAT

Mary Ann Miesner has come out of retirement to try to bring some calm to the La Grande School Board, which has been rocked by politics and infighting over the past several months.

Miesner, who served on the board in the 1980s and 90s, has agreed to serve out the 1 1/2 years remaining on Shari Bennetts term. Bennett, herself a veteran of the board, resigned Dec. 20 following a controversy involving a student grade change and student records. A couple weeks after the board encouraged Bennett to leave through a no-confidence vote, board member Sandra Roth resigned. Roth, who refused to join the board in its no-confidence vote against Bennett, cited differences of opinion with Superintendent Dan Arriola and other board members as to why she resigned.

No one expects seven members of a school board to agree all the time. But Miesner, known for her pleasant demeanor and quiet leadership skills, should bring a calming effect, respect for the open-meetings law and some civility to the board. She was a good choice for the appointment.