History and Activism at the Idaho Statehouse on MLK Day 

click to enlarge Hundreds of people celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., Day at the Idaho State Capitol.

Harrison Berry

Hundreds of people celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., Day at the Idaho State Capitol.

There wan't anything wrong with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, per se, but Boise State University Director of Diversity and Inclusion Francisco Salinas remixed it anyway for his remarks Monday at the Idaho Human Rights Day Celebration. In his speech, "I'm Still Dreaming," Salinas used the structure of King's original speech to add that America is still in arrears for the promise of equality it made to all citizens in its founding documents.

"America still continues to default on this promise," he said.

Salinas' Jan. 15 speech renewed the call for protection of the marginalized the righteous pursuit of social justice, invoking that adage from the 2016 presidential election, "When they go low, we go high."

Striking a balance between vigorous activism and peaceful resistance has long been a theme for MLK Day addresses, but Salinas observed while the need remains the same, the language of struggle has changed since the Civil Rights era. Minutes before his speech, Tanisha Ayers, a Boise State University student speaking before a crowd of hundreds at the Capitol steps, said the pursuit of justice "must disrupt the status quo," and change is unlikely to take place "just because we ask for it." She challenged the popular image of King's nonviolence, arguing his refusal to come to blows was no barrier to him taking action.

"This man was not the kumbaya pacifist he has been made out to be," she said.

For others, however, MLK Day is as much about breaking cycles of oppression as it is an encounter with history. Lisa Sanchez, who became the first Hispanic woman ever to serve on the Boise City Council Jan. 9, said one of her first actions as an engaged citizen was with a Boise State MLK Day organizing committee, where she was asked by one of its most influential founders, Eric Love, to be the committee liaison to the Boise State chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA). That was in 1989.

Sanchez's activism extends to the present day. At her swearing-in ceremony, she brought members of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe from Duck Valley as a reminder of the first residents of the Boise area. She said she hopes to bring "the lens of compassion to everything that we do," and increase the amount and effectiveness of citizens' political engagement through education. Standing under the rotunda in the Capitol building just before the official MLK Day ceremony, she said disruption and connection—turning people's passion into action and change—had helped put her on the Boise City Council.

"It's something that's been missing, and part of the reason I think I won, to be honest," she said.
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