I met Coretta Scott King after placing a wreath of flowers upon the crypt of her slain husband.
She was grace personified, entertaining and speaking to a group of high school seniors, around 50 of us, who were in Atlanta for a summer, studying at the Youth Theology Institute of Emory University.
She was the torchbearer for her husband's legacy, and that summer as I read his words, my life was changed.
We expected her to tell us to rise to some great national calling, to stand up against injustice on the scale which she and her husband had. Idealistic and naive, we were certain we were ready to face Bull Connor's police dogs.
Instead she said, "Go back to your communities across America and work for justice there — in those places."
Her point was that injustice, prejudice, discrimination weren't just a byproduct of the South or George Wallace. They can be found on the reservations or in the towns of Montana.
So it surprised me when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was rebuked late Tuesday evening for using the words of a woman who helped change the way a middle-class white kid from Montana saw the world. Without her words, I may have been tricked into believing racism and its attendant injustices were confined by the borders of the Mason-Dixon line.
Warren was using King's words from 1986 to condemn Sen. Jeff Sessions who today stands as a nominee for attorney general of the United States of America. Warren's selection of King's words carry with them the authority of someone who knows exactly what civil rights mean. They weren't hyperbole when written, and they aren't now.
When I learned that Montana's own Sen. Steve Daines was the one who silenced Warren, I was appalled.
Senate Rule 19 prohibits Senators for speaking ill of one another. Warren may not have been speaking ill so much as she was speaking truthfully, and there's a difference. Saying something truthful and saying something nice are two entirely different things. And Warren was not speaking of Sessions as a senator, but as a person being considered for the country's top law enforcement agent. In that case, Warren must be given the broadest latitude for speaking freely because no stones should be left unturned when it comes to having as much power as is given an attorney general.
Senators exchanging snark is not a rare thing; turn on any television during the Sunday morning talk shows. So invoking Rule 19 is completely hypocritical and out of line.
For Daines to play any part of this scheme is shameful, un-American and needs to be condemned. But I don't condemn his actions solely as an editor — a person vehemently and ardently opposed to anything that would look like a curtailing of free speech. I am simply doing as Coretta Scott King herself urged me years ago: I am fighting injustice in my own community.
Not letting someone speak, and using power to thwart that speech is an injustice.
It's probably easy for Mr. Daines to go to Washington and be a party lackey to carry out a plan to silence the opposition. Who cares about a senator from Massachusetts? Or one from Alabama? Or the words of a dead wife of a civil rights leader, especially out here in the hinterlands of Montana?
All it takes is for people in Montana to believe that this fight has nothing to do with us. All it takes is for us to accept a little nick and then a slight adjustment to something as precious as freedom of speech or spirited dissent and before you know it, our freedom of speech becomes something more like freedom of acceptable speech.
But freedom of speech means absolutely nothing unless it's having to listen to vociferous, repeated ideas, thoughts and speech we don't like. Daines and the rest of the Republicans seem to think that simply being in the majority party also gives them the right to judge speech — something that should concern any citizen.
We must call Daines' actions for what they are, a deliberate assault on freedom of speech, trumped up on the charges of some arcane article of Senate decorum.
It's not as if Warren's words were vulgar or even off-topic. That's exactly the point — they were so on point that GOP leaders were obviously worried that they may be used to turn the tide of public opinion against one of their own whom they know to have an extraordinarily troubling record of civil rights.
Not only could Steve Daines not be counted to raise these same civil rights concern, he couldn't even be counted on to vouchsafe for a fellow senator's right to speak her albeit long-winded mind.
If you can gavel down a senator whose speech you don't like, what's to stop you from muzzling others, Sen. Daines? Who's next to be told to take their seat?
So I say, in full celebration of my First Amendment right to do so: Gavel this.
You can force a senator to shut up, but not me.
You can't gavel this press or the responsibility I have to point out that you were a part of the injustice that silenced a voice of opposition.
And injustice anywhere is an assault to justice everywhere.
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that.
Or would you gavel him, too?