Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK Would Not Be Pleased

MLK, Jr. was a man of conscience and a beacon to the freedom movement. His message of freedom, equality, justice and love is more important today than it ever was. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Park, DC, USA. Photos: Ove Overmyer  ©10-19-2012 

By Ove Overmyer

Today, calendar watchers everywhere celebrate and honor the legacy of MLK. For many grassroots community activists like me who fight for social, economic and racial justice every waking moment, it’s really just another day fighting for the right to stay relevant in an often uncaring and turbulent world. And frankly speaking, I'm a little sick and tired of empty rhetoric coming from insincere politicians, corporations and unscrupulous nonprofits in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It might have taken a near-historic recession in 2008 for many Americans to notice our country's rapidly rising levels of racial unrest and income inequality, but the gap between rich and poor has finally gone mainstream, with bloggers, economists and policymakers of all stripes spouting theories on why we should or shouldn't care. And while the debate continues over cause and consequence, that central claim has proven unshakable: the void between the wealth of the world’s richest and poorest is widening, and few signs show any indication of it slowing down anytime soon. Any sane economist will tell you growing levels income inequality spell doom for any democratic nation or civil society.

You would also have to be living under a rock not to know the concept of “post-racial America” is a farce and non-existent. The concept is repugnant and offensive. As a matter of fact, I believe we have never been more racially polarized than we are right now.

To add insult to injury on MLK’s legacy, one of my favorite journalists, NYT’s Steven Greenhouse, shared a story today that revealed that the world's richest 1 percent will soon amass wealth that represents more than the entirety of that owned by the rest of the people on our planet.

In 2014, the 80 richest people had a collective wealth of $1.9 trillion — a rise of $600 billion, or 50 percent in four years, according to the report, Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More. The report used data taken from Forbes' billionaires list and also research conducted by Swiss financial services group Credit Suisse.

President Obama is also expected on Tuesday in his State of the Union address to unveil a series of proposals aimed at alleviating economic inequality in the United States. He will meet tremendous resistance. And for some, the status-quo is exactly how they want it. This is not just happenstance—this has been a calculated strategy and master plan all along. This is about greed, plain and simple.

Today’s observed holiday also comes on the heels of a GOP-lead Congress who voted in its first week of session to change the rules to make reallocation harder. This stealth attack on Social Security and the 11 million disabled persons who depend upon it was launched with full knowledge that the funds for Social Security disability will run dry early next year. A failure to reallocate would mean that disability benefits would have to be cut by 20 percent. A standard reallocation would keep both the old-age and disability programs solvent until 2033, meaning there is plenty of time to work out a long-term fix without launching a war on the disabled.

I personally believe the root cause of poverty and income inequality, viewed in the most general terms, is extreme human ingenuity, albeit of a perverse amoral kind. Most educated folks in the know would tell you based on data and facts not supposition or religious doctrine-- no economy will grow or survive without a strong middle-class.

Supporting working poor and the disabled is just good economic public policy, period. It’s also a moral responsibility of everyone to take care of those who cannot care for themselves. Ask yourself this question, what is the role of government in the first place? But here we are—January 19, 2015—and the values that persist in such times of unspeakable wealth for some exist at the same time there is immeasurable suffering for most. Individual materialism and wealth are now extolled as righteous American values and heavily outweigh any sense of civic self sacrifice or community understanding. 

Remembering MLK’s legacy

So, indulge me for a moment. Let me share my thoughts about MLK, the man I remember and honor.

I remember MLK as a fierce fighter for unions and working people. He died April 4, 1968 while helping AFSCME sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

I remember the diplomat. I remember his ability to forge coalitions when the difference between a successful protest and a bust depends on mobilizing not just the members of one group, but also many disparate ones.

I honor the provocateur. King's willingness to confront, coerce and consequently enrage opponents has been downplayed, but I remember it being one of his best qualities. He was not a passive dreamer—he was much, much more.

I idolize the believer. He didn't lose sight of what was right because of expedience or politics — especially partisan politics, which many activists see as a trap. King's strength through many trials stemmed from "a calmness that was founded in rectitude."

I could never be as courageous as MLK, but let me try. Activists today know they could have been killed in King's day, and King himself was arrested about 30 times. He was all about action—despite the hate and uncertainty that confronted him on a daily basis.

I will always admire his independence. King refused to kowtow in the Oval Office. He ignored President Kennedy's opposition to the March on Washington in 1963, and broke with President Johnson in 1967 to oppose the Vietnam War.

I respect his fortitude. King persisted despite death threats, jailing, FBI wiretaps and delays — the civil rights bill sat in Congress for years.  His faith told him time was on his side-- he knew he was right.

In summary, the easiest way to destroy MLK’s dream, and the American Dream for that matter, is to support any notion that racially divides us as a nation and take away a worker's opportunity of bettering their station in life. This has become the new normal and the common conundrum for every unemployed, low-wage, involuntary part time worker in America. This is not what Dr. King would have wanted. I know this firsthand—because I am one of those workers.

Overmyer is CSEA President, City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420

Photo: Ove Overmyer, ©2012

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