As the world celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King’s life, his stirring and enduring vision collides with a resurgence of white supremacy and America’s growing racial chasm in income, wealth, opportunity and freedom.
Six generations after slavery, we have traded the shackles of the plantation for the economic bondage of low wages, poor education, and unaffordable housing. “What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” asked Dr. King at a rally of AFSCME sanitation workers in Memphis on March 18, 1968, barely two weeks before his death. “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality.”
A major study on inequality released January 15, on what would have been Dr. King’s 90th birthday, shows that wealth has been concentrating into fewer and fewer hands in the 50 years since his assassination. The story of our nation is increasingly one of two America’s, one of gated communities and unfathomable opulence, and another of inescapable debt and perpetual precarity.
Black, Latino and Indigenous Americans have shouldered the greatest increase in poverty and hardship in this second Gilded Age. The median family wealth for White families today is $147,000. Meanwhile Latino families have just $6,600 to their name and Black families have only $3,600. The richest 400 Americans own more wealth than all Black households combined, about 42 million people.
Dr. King understood that if our country maintained its exploitative economic and political systems we would produce a metastasizing racial and economic apartheid.
That is why MPP continues its national partnership with the Poor People’s Campaign, which carries forth the legacy of Dr. King’s original PPC, founded at a staff retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in November 1967, where the reverend identified the three evils of racism, poverty and militarism that still plague us today.
It is why we engage in nonviolent direct action by picketing with strikers, engaging in boycotts, and occupying a government that neither speaks nor cares for its people. Dr. King made civil disobedience the hallmark of his organizing after a series of setbacks in the courts, realizing that it was necessary on the path to power.
The reverend, a political independent, taught that only through union organizing could workers of all backgrounds achieve the beloved American goal of “opportunity for all.” That is why, 50 years after Dr. King delivered his final sermon, we have joined with The Organizer and a dozen unions and organizations representing more than 100,000 members to found the Labor-Community Campaign for an Independent Party.
“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over our nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Illinois AFL-CIO Convention, October 1965
May we finally realize his vision.
Movement for a People’s Party