Each year the president gives a State of the Union address and each year America pauses to pay symbolic homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the president speaks to a variety of issues an overriding problem connects the State of the Union and the legacy of Dr. King: economic injustice.
Relegating Dr. King to the 1963 March on Washington and “I have a dream” is a shameful misrepresentation of the civil rights leader. And while the president may tout tax credits and efforts to relieve the middle class, such a narrow focus is shameful for the richest nation on earth.
When Dr. King went to Washington, D.C., in 1963, his argument was America had presented the Negro with a check marked insufficient funds when it came to full equality. The speech was not about a Dream, but part of a movement for economic parity and a real fight against poverty–a fight America could not wage pouring money into the Vietnam War.
Today we have a president and a country that delight in quoting Dr. King instead of learning the lessons he taught and scriptural admonitions to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan. Official poverty remains at 15 percent and a report recently revealed that over half of U.S. schoolchildren are living in poverty–not a good indicator for the State of the Union. While jobs have increased wages remain stagnant. Poverty and joblessness have a disproportionate grip on Blacks in America.
As Think Progress noted Dr. King “pushed for a government-guaranteed right to a job. In the years before his assassination, King re-shifted his focus on economic justice in northern cities as well as the South. He launched the Poor People’s Campaign and put forth an economic and social bill of rights that espoused ‘a national responsibility to provide work for all.’ King advocated for a jobs guarantee, which would require the government to provide jobs to anyone who could not find one and end unemployment. The bill of rights also included ‘the right of every citizen to a minimum income’ and ‘the right to an adequate education.’ … Referring to the now iconic Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-ins, he asked, ‘What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?’ ”
“The reverend was very aware that this kind of challenge was even more dangerous than his work on segregation and civil rights. ‘You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums,’ he warned his staff in 1966. ‘You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.’ … ‘Our national priorities are disastrously confused when we spend more than $30 billion a year upon a tragic, destructive war in Southeast Asia and cut back on the programs which deal with the most basic injustices of America itself,’ ” Dr. King warned.
In fiscal year 2015, the U.S. military budget will hit $555 billion or 55 percent of all discretionary spending for the U.S. government. Just a fraction of such spending, put at $175.3 billion just three years ago by American Prospect magazine, could lift every American in poverty above the poverty line.
Such an investment would say that America values people above things and would reverse the continued trend of the richest one percent gobbling up more and more riches.
America may be banking on the middle class for her future but America has no future if these trends and failures continue. Poverty won’t stop growing so long as economic injustice and the bloodsuckers of the poor ravage the country through a voracious, heartless and traitorous form of capitalism, a capitalism that knows no boundaries, no allegiances and no mercy. Not a good indicator for the State of the Union.
Where do we go from here? We get $1 trillion of this economy annually but what do we do with it? The Nation of Islam has reinstated Muhammad’s Economic Blueprint (www.economicblueprint.org) to begin laying an economic foundation. If 16 million workers gave just 35 cents a week, we would amass over $291 million in a year. That money could be used for purchasing farmland and deals could be leveraged to give us hope and substance.
In 1966 Dr. King met with the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, in Chicago. According to an article published by the Chicago Defender on Feb. 26, 1966, these two sons of Georgia “agreed to have a ‘common front’ in a war against slums.” Though there were differences, “there now appear to be areas, slums and other than slums, in which our movement can cooperate,” Dr. King was quoted as telling a reporter.
Though unlikely to be part of the president’s address, nor his laundry list of problems to be solved, the poverty of the ghetto persists today. The problem of Black joblessness persists today. The problem of Black hopelessness persists today.
If Dr. King and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad saw the need for joint efforts to attack the “slums” yesterday, doesn’t the same need exist today? The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, following in the footsteps of his teacher, called for Black leaders to sit together and plan a common future for our people. It was a similar invitation that resulted in the meeting between Dr. King and the leader of the Nation of Islam.
The days ahead are unlikely to get better for us and the masses mired in poverty, and if the state of the Union for America is troubled, the state of Black America is in crisis. We need to forge a way out of this darkness by finding common ground–perhaps an economic agenda could be the place to start.