One of the greatest human beings America has ever produced is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Few people ever demonstrate that higher potential in humanity. Beaten and jailed. Yet, still practiced the principles of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. Wiretapped and betrayed. The FBI even sent him a letter telling him to commit suicide. Yet, still professed hope and never giving into despair. Other civil rights leaders, the liberal media, black and white Americans alike at the time thought it unpopular to speak up against the war in Viet Nam, shunned and turned against him during the last years of his life. Threatened and insulted day in and day out. Yet, still waking up every day armed with the virtuous weapons of truth, justice, and love.
We do a far greater service to the memory of MLK and our nation when we realize that he was far more than an “I Have a Dream” speech or “arc of the moral universe” quote.
Let’s witness the King who roared in protest to Viet Nam, “declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.”
Let’s understand the King who said to striking sanitation workers, “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
Let’s come to know the King who refused to be silent about the war in Viet Nam. Began the Poor People’s Campaign. Outlined the creation of a federal agency that would provide all working-age Americans with jobs. Wrote the Foreword to the New Freedom Budget for All Americans:
“…We have come far in our quest for respect and dignity. But we have far to go. The long journey ahead requires that we emphasize the needs of all America’s poor, for there is no way merely to find work, or adequate housing, or quality integrated schools for Negroes alone. We shall eliminate slums for Negroes when we destroy ghettos and build new cities for all. We shall eliminate unemployment for Negroes when we demand full and fair employment for all…”
The Freedom Budget is as important today as it was when penned in 1965, and as important then as it was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the 2nd Bill of Rights during the State of the Union Address in 1944. The Freedom Budget was penned by A. Philip Randolph, civil rights activist and co-organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (most forget the Jobs and Freedom part) where King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. What exactly did this document for which King write a Foreword for ultimately seek to achieve? Here are the seven basic objectives of the Freedom Budget:
- To provide full employment for all who are willing and able to work, including those who need education or training to make them willing and able.
- To assure decent and adequate wages to all who work.
- To assure a decent living standard to those who cannot or should not work.
- To wipe out slum ghettos and provide decent homes for all Americans.
- To provide decent medical care and adequate educational opportunities to all Americans, at a cost they can afford.
- To purify our air and water and develop our transportation and natural resources on a scale suitable to our growing needs.
- To unite sustained full employment with sustained full production and high economic growth.
This was the King, the revolutionary, who became unacceptable to the establishments and status quo. A King that would not just stay in his lane to speak only about civil rights and social issues. A King that saw beyond the identity politics we see politicians pander to today. When King spoke about race in America, he did it fearlessly without worry of the need to be politically correct. In fact, King understood intersectionality — the idea that social categorizations such as race and class are connected.
King expressed that we could not have a War On Poverty here in America, when we proclaim an immoral war in Viet Nam. King expressed that economic justice is the means to sustained social justice and human rights as the ends. King expressed how our economic crisis is wrapped in a greater moral crisis. In his Beyond Viet Nam speech, King unequivocally says, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” For these words, he paid the ultimate price.
While King was demonized in life, he became deified after death. A lesson from his life is no matter how unpopular one is, progress in our world depends on those who speak truth to power, stand with integrity even when faced with the temptation to remain silent, and seek justice where evil must not prevail.
Today, we must truly honor the legacy of King by understanding who he is, but more importantly, continuing the work he started. The struggle for social, economic, political justice have grown far greater in an ever more interconnected 21st century world. When public schools in the northeast are more segregated and under-resourced. When women are paid less than men. When families (yes 2 people and/or their kids) work two or more jobs each, and still end up homeless. When people go bankrupt due to medical bills. When senior citizens have to choose between paying for food or life saving medication. When veterans commit suicide. When a child goes hungry. When communities are polluted. When the next great minds are stuck at a desk job due to crushing student loans and for “the benefits.” When industries are monopolized by oligarchs. When politicians are bought and paid for by the billionaire class. Like King and so many others, we must be bold and brave to fight for the ideals we desperately need at this moment in history. Let’s remember the words of King, “The ultimate measure of a [human] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
We must all be that King who refuses to bend the knee for gold and glory, we must all march together instead for truth, justice, and love.
That is why our campaign for U.S. Congress has put forward the
People’s Platform. Sign and share the vision if you agree. The life, words, and work of Dr. King must live on for a better future for all in America.
Licensed Social Worker,
Candidate for U.S. House in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District