Harrisonburg's renaming has significance on a historic and national scale.

This event was a demonstration of a form of political power latent in a political system like that of the United States. In a socialist system, like China, the political system is organized around the welfare of the nation as a whole. The US system is organized around the regulated competition of diverse political interests which is supposed to lead to the best outcomes for the nation. In the US system, the welfare of the people would not be represented unless political power was mobilized to contest in the political system to win it. The political process in the United States usually features the carefully orchestrated, highly funded, work of professional politicians and lobbyists with more or less tenuous connections to a voting base.

Much more rarely do we see endogenous shifts in political and normative consciousness of a community whose expression is the strong point of a system with democratic features. This, however, is what happened in Harrisonburg. The street renaming was an example of activity at the municipal level that led to an emergence of ideas within the community and discovery by a community of its power. A frequent refrain leading up to the unexpected success was the privately confided 'this is what I think, but they don't care about what I think.' People with such feelings found that they were not alone in their sentiment, that they were part of broad agreement -their feelings and ideas moved in conversations from one person to the next until they were known among people who had never met. They found that they were heard, and that those who heard were persuaded and united with them. Finally, the building voice put forward a narrative that could not be politically resisted. In parallel, the opposition that was taken to be monolithic and massive proved to be the position that was actually isolated, small, and when aired out found to be flawed and unpersuasive.

The moment in Harrisonburg was one of establishing common knowledge that shifted a community's political consciousness and thus transformed the political power and the political landscape.

The renaming idea's origin in the African American community and the association of Martin Luther King street renamings with African American communities was significant for Harrisonburg. While Harrisonburg's African American community is historic and strong, it is small. Its reach as the initiator and leader was far beyond its numbers, and the structure of the effort showed the leadership to be at a spiritual level rather than the more limited traditional direct and hierarchical relations usually associated with the term. The meaning of this renaming thus ran deep, challenging white supremacy and the system of hierarchy and domination underlying the discrimination based on color that more superficial reading takes as an endpoint. Thus, while a conservative reading of the 'I Have a Dream' speech is glad to stop at having a Black president and blame the nearly 1,000,000 Black men behind bars for their own lot, a deeper appreciation sees Dr. King's vision subverted by difference that makes no difference.

The renaming struggle illuminated the deepest roots of the resistance to a decent society and shows the way toward a national effort in the direction that has seen fits and starts beginning with reconstruction and reaching its greatest potential with the effort of Dr. King that started to be eroded after his assassination.

The Harrisonburg story undermines the narrative of austerity: the narrative Congressman Goodlate used to justify resistance to comprehensive immigration reform, the narrative that blocked a fast and effective response to the economic crisis that could have spared working people, the narrative that has dropped Greece from the league of developed countries, the narrative that is an antithesis to Dr. King's dream.

Lessons Learned

Historical and Theoretical Background

Just as searching for an excuse to avoid renaming has mapped the psyche of those looking for the excuse, digging for the non-existent evidence has been a guide to produce a representative picture of the times. Do we want to remember the US from 1900-1910 ( with pictures- this may be too terrible to leave up.)?

Have we spent enough time studying what Dr. King actually said so we can critically examine his relevance?

Am I racist?

See a review of top contender for this year's Oscar winner. What is the appeal? We are at a time of awakening when the people who have been the putative beneficiaries of white supremacy are for the first time realizing that they live in a system that was built on slavery and which bears the same logic, even though its expression has been checked by over 150 years of resistance. These people, facing job insecurity and economic crisis, now identify with the Black man. They are the audience that will drive the success of this film.

The myth of economic austerity and the network of prison vs. the network of employment.

Harrisonburg's vibrant and resourceful African American community had historic connections all along Cantrell and Main (Irish) Streets. See for example, Rockingham Memorial Hospital

Why is this on a site about lawns?

R4 redevelopment sources.

Shenandoah Valley Black History Project.

Oral history sources.

Economics and Dr. King: the 'Bad Check.'

When Dr. King says the bank of justice, how can we get justice?

The legal system and civil rights, but as important in today's economy: Jobs.

Can we afford jobs for all?

Gold standard thinking of pre-crisis economics said no, but the US is not under a gold standard and the answer is yes.

See the leaflet on Modern Monetary Theory and CantrellAvenue.com for more. See a blog post celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom for a direct connection. See Levy Institute Working Paper 668 for much more detail and another direct connection to Dr. King's work.

Why have we not heard of this? Why is it not taught at Harvard and Princeton and JMU?

Economists who please those with wealth, power, and prestige are rewarded with wealth, power, and prestige. Those who don't generally must make due with the satisfaction of being on the side of truth and right.

MMT entails what Dr. King called for:

"a revolution in values will soon cause us to question the fairness 
and justice of many of our past and present policies."

What jobs will people do if jobs are to be had by all?

New kinds of employment relations will have to be conceived of. As Dr. King said:
"we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a
person-oriented society. 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."
Some sensible wealthy people like the economist John Maynard Keynes (though he did not particularly love the poor) realized what Dr. King pointed out, that
"I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to
be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought
to be."
But most feel more secure continuing the tradition of the old south, of running the society by the chain (credit scores, criminal records, and incarceration --replacing traditional racism), the whip (undemocratic workplaces with constant fear of unemployment-- a consequence of extreme materialism), and the sword (constant war and a war economy-- militarism). Overcoming this calls upon moral force, but also moral arguments to defeat the false economic arguments that protect the system of hierarchy and domination as did the false concept of race that was invented to try to rationalize slavery.

We Can Overcome.

The moral arguments of Dr. King and the demands of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom CAN be realized in practice. The theories denying it have failed spectacularly and the theories explaining how are well worked out.

Cantrell Naming History
Martin Luther King Way Naming History
The Significance of Renaming