Tag Archives: poverty

What Would Martin Do?

If you’re over the age of 4, that’s probably a simple question. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be talking, preaching, and out there supporting the 99%. Probably. I mean I really think so.

I think that partly because when he was killed in 1968 we had already begun some serious tackling of social issues that included more than racism. We looked into the eye of sexism, we began to value inclusiveness and diversity. We admitted to illiteracy and underliteracy in our midst. We accepted the concept of vulnerability as it pertained to race, class and sex, un- and under-employment. We admitted to having race, gender, poverty and class issues that was life-destroying and as a nation decided we didn’t like it.

There are so many pieces of the 60’s tapestry, of MLK’s legacy that we can consider. What resonates most for me though, when I look at the differences between that USA and USA 2012, is the existence of a discomfort, a national pain,  a growning awareness that a noose of vulnerability was choking members of what we had believed was the world’s greatest society.

The social activism and voices of the 60’s that decried racism had in fact a far grander  vision than an opposition to racism. The larger message and the larger motivator was a desire to align vulnerability with historic American values of opportunity. It was not a nation that said we would be blind to color or class, gender or disability agism or xenophobia. Or that we could completely do away with it.

It was a nation that admitted, with an unaccustomed amount of humility, to the concept of vulnerablility. That vision said no to some things — like that differences, exclusion, and hate, would not rule. That we would root out unequal legislation and education, do away with strong if intangible barriers to opportunity. In the 60’s we agreed, generally as a nation, that the stronger of us would protect the weaker and that we did not want a society built on an unequal foundation in which the vulnerable could be brutalized by their difference or their lack.

But the vision was overwhelmingly a positive one — it was profoundly more ‘for’ than ‘against.’ Martin Luther King became the iconic voice of that larger vision of inclusiveness, appreciation of diversity, and protection of and service to the vulnerable. His metaphors, including of the mountain top, moved mountains and galvanized the hearts of a nation. Well most of it anyway. Obviously not those that managed to assassinate some of our greatest leaders and orators.

Nor did the 60’s fully resolve anything. But as a nation, we were reasonably united in wanting to spread the Reverend’s Dream to all.

Would Martin even recognize our world today? What would he say about inclusivity if he knew that almost 50 years after his death, ninety percent of Americans make less in real dollars than they did in 1973? [1]

What would he say about diversity if he knew that today the wealthiest 400 Americans control more wealth than half the people — not of the US — but more than half the wealth of the entire world? [1]

What would he say about vulnerability if he knew that instead of that taxes for the top 400 have plummeted from 51.2 percent in 1955 to 16.6 percent in 2007 (no later stats available, for the top 400.) [2]

What would he say about his dream if he knew that the USA had become the least socially mobile of the world’s economically advanced countries? [3]

What would Martin say? Stated more precisely, what would Martin do?

 

[1] http://smallplanet.org/surprising-facts
[2] http://wealthforcommongood.org/shifting-responsibility/
[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/us/harder-for-americans-to-rise-from-lower-rungs.html?pagewanted=all
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