Jan 182005

Most of us that get the MLK Holiday treat as most of the other holidays…having no real significance beyond the day off. I’ll admit to being guilty, but I did do some reflecting on how Dr. King might have responded to the America we have today.

In the months immediately preceding his death on April 4, 1968, King turned his attention almost exclusively to the problem of poverty. He called for a guaranteed family income, threatened national boycotts, and spoke of disrupting entire cities by nonviolent “camp-ins.” King was interested in more than charity; he wanted to effect structural changes that would guarantee a better chance for America’s poor. “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar,” he said, “it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Thirty-seven years after King’s death, the “edifice” still needs work. In the last four years, our supposedly “compassionate” president has rammed through three separate tax cuts for the wealthy, greatly increasing the burden on low- and middle-income Americans. The result? Under President Bush, poverty rates have risen for three straight years and the number of people without health insurance has grown to 45 million.

King worked to create an America where inequality, whether racial or economic, was seen as a moral issue. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King said. “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” The Bush administration’s position? Portray the poor as mentally unsound: “I do not believe being poor is a condition,” said Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, “it is a state of mind. Perhaps it is with this theory in mind that President Bush has failed to support programs benefiting America’s least fortunate, like Section 8 housing and Medicaid. In addition, his administration has undermined programs designed to improve economic development in low-income areas, like the Community Reinvestment Act, and today announced it would “drastically shrink” the Department of Housing’s $8 billion community branch.

I think we need another Martin Luther King.

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