Okay, here’s the easy part: Luke (you know, the guy who contributed one of the Gospels plus the entire book of Acts?) trounced John Donne yesterday. Yeah, I voted for John Donne in the first round and might have done so again if he hadn’t come up against such a heavyweight. But really, was there any doubt? I’m glad he made it thus far, but Johnny boy, the bell hath tolled and it hath indeed tolled for thee.
But today. OMG. Today… The first Lent Madness match-up in which I truly want to run screaming from the room. Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Frances Perkins. Would that I had not, through the wretched yet blessed instrument of Lent Madness, have even become aware of who Frances Perkins was. But alas, my consciousness has been raised, my knowledge has been awakened (along the lines of the convoluted thoughts expressed by St. Paul’s letter to the Romans in the Daily Lectionary readings this week…) and I am fully aware of who Frances Perkins was and what her impact on our lives today continues to be. So what once might have been (IMHO) a slam dunk for MLK has now become the toughest choice yet. For me any way.
Hear me out: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the Harriet Tubman of his time — leading his people on to yet another form of freedom. But he did not just raise the horizon for African-American people, he raised it for all Americans. He lifted up a vision of a time when none of us would any longer be judged by the color of our skin but rather by the content of our character. He had a dream, not just for black people, but for all people. He was martyred on the eve of participating in a march in solidarity with sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. He was expanding his vision beyond civil rights for African-Americans to civil rights for all: the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized of every color and ethnicity. And he was also beginning to take a stand against the injustice of the US involvement in the affairs of Viet Nam — the incredible waste of human life in that conflict, both American and Vietnamese. And here we are, some 40+ years later: I look at the label on a tee-shirt I bought at The Gap and it says “Made in Viet Nam.” Those of you who didn’t live through all that meshugenah don’t perhaps fully grasp the enormity inherent in that simple label. I look at it and marvel that those who were once our enemies are now “trading partners.” And also weep at the countless lives lost so needlessly. I also feel a personal connection with MLK — my father attended the 1963 March on Washington (we lived in the DC suburbs at the times). He was actually there to hear the “I have a dream” speech. Wow. I was just a kid then — what did I know? I had no concept of the enormity of it all then.
And yet, despite all that — my vote today goes to Frances Perkins. A woman who, again I am ashamed to say, I didn’t know about until Lent Madness. Frances was the Secretary of Labor during FDR’s administration — (the first woman cabinet member) — she held that post through all four of his terms. She is responsible for Social Security and for Welfare. She drafted several of the initiatives which helped pull us out of the Great Depression like the Civilian Conservation Corps (in which my husband’s dad had his first job). She helped eliminate child labor and gave us so many other benefits that we now take for granted. Take for granted, except that now so many of these are under attack and are at risk of being lost.
And it is for that reason — the fact that so much of what Frances Perkins worked so hard to insure would be available to all Americans are now at risk, are now dismissed as “entitlements” — that I cast my vote for Frances Perkins over the giant of civil rights Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That and the fact that Frances Perkins’ story needs to be told and re-told, boldly, now, in a time when what she worked so hard to gain then could so easily be swept away.
To vote, go here. Scroll to the bottom of the page and do please pause to read the Lent Madness reflections on today’s giants.