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Opinion




JUSTICE INITIATIVE
 
King's Poor People's Campaign  
       
"Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign, 
we are coming to get our check!"  

Martin Luther King 1968 
 
Dr. Martin Luther King displays the poster to be used during his Poor People's Campaign, March 4, 1968, one month before he was shot to death by a sniper.
 
September 4, 2018
(the article first appeared in the SCLC National Magazine
 
"Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation."
Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968 in Memphis
 
The day after King made the above profound statement, he was assassinated in Memphis. Also, regarding making America a better nation, at a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) staff retreat in May 1967, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
 
"I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights...[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement...That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution...In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society."(The Grio)
 
It was, in fact, in 1967 that King and others in SCLC planned the "Poor People's Campaign" to signify the move from civil rights to human rights and for its launching to take place in Washington, DC in 1968.
 
Regarding King's and others remarkable civil rights work and demands leading to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Dr. King had questioned that while these achievements were significant, still, what good was it to be able to get on a bus or into a hotel room if you couldn't afford to pay for it. So, in addition to the inequities in civil rights, the human rights demands of economic justice became paramount for him and, as he said, "to raise certain basic questions about the whole society."
 
A few years ago, I was informed by Rashid Nuri (a leading black organic urban farmer in Atlanta) of a rare video clip of King speaking in Mississippi in 1968. This speech was given by King just a few weeks before he was assassinated, King spoke of the opportunities for whites that, by comparison, had been denied blacks in America and the hypocrisy surrounding this. Whites say black folks should pick themselves up by their bootstraps? Yet, he notes that around the time of the Civil War, Congress passed the Homestead Act essentially giving millions of free land to whites, as well as developing land grant colleges to teach whites how to farm, and more. Here are his comments at this Mississippi gathering:
 
"At the very same time that America refused to give the Negro any land, through an act of Congress our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the mid-west which meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low-interest rates in order that they could mechanize their farms. Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in subsidies not to farm and they are the very people telling the black man that he should lift himself up by his own bootstraps. And this is what we are faced with. And this is a reality. Now, when we come to Washington in this campaign, we are coming to get our check!"(Federal Subsidies for White Land
 
The Poor People's Campaign Analysis
 
While the American elite didn't like King demanding civil rights, still these demands were accomplished to a large degree and he miraculously lived through that period of his life. But with a shift toward economics and demanding economic equity he was moving into unchartered turf. In his anti-Vietnam speech in New York on April 4, 1967 he spoke of the triple evils in America that, he said, were interrelated and they are racism, poverty/economic inequality, and military imperialism. In fact, it would be appropriate to note that his anti-Vietnam speech laid the ground for the Poor People's Campaign.
 
 
King had essentially noted in his anti-war speech that it was impossible to separate the international policies with the domestic policies and motivations. The inference was that you can't separate napalmed children in Vietnam with poverty in Mississippi or garbage workers in Memphis. They all suffer and are treated as being less than human. The lack of humane and equitable treatment and policies were stark. And how can you point fingers at black Americans for lack of achievement when you witness the huge inequities of treatment between blacks and whites historically and the huge amounts of money going into the military industrial complex to then kill Vietnamese and increase inequities in America as well. That money going to the military could instead be used to advance the quality of life for all Americans.
 
Dr. King's shift of emphasis in the last year of his life demonstrated to the country, and the world, what was significant to the ruling elite in the United States because of the way they immediately reacted after his anti-Vietnam War speech. President Lyndon Johnson immediately distanced himself from King. Many black civil rights leaders, including Ralph Bunch and others, were critical. The day following his speech virtually all the major media criticized King.
 
But finally, regarding the Poor People's March and demands for economic equity, it's also important to note the following: it is the simple profound statement that the reason people are treated differently by those in power is generally for profit. So that would include racism and economic inequities. King was attempting to change that equation by striving to give workers more power. He was about to threaten the profit accumulation by taking a forthright stance on the side of economic equity for the black community overall. This was compounded by his planning to bring the massive civil rights community and activists with him to Washington to make these economic demands. King was stepping on dangerous ground. It is not ironic that he was killed in Memphis while demanding rights for garbage workers.
 
America is still needing to address the economic inequities that plague the country with it's 1% versus 99% scenario of huge economic disparities. We are fortunate there is now a revival of the SCLC 
 
The tens of millions of people who have participated in the Women's March, the March for Our Lives, and the many other protests of the Trump era are marching in place in every community large or small. They have the potential to provide a vast grassroots network of the Poor People's Campaign can reach out and inspire them to act together. 
(Photo: TwitPic/@Fightfor15)


Justice Initiative: America at the Dawn of Darkness
By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III

"You've heard about some of these pet projects - they really don't make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France."
Sarah Palin - Oct. 24, 2008

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Donald Trump - Nov. 6, 2012

 
 
During The Enlightenment period between 1685 and 1815, Western thought, culture, science, philosophy, society and politics were forever changed. From this period came the ideas of individual freedom, inalienable rights (those given to humans by God) and equality for all. It is reflected in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." During this period, the ideas of the divinity of monarchies and the traditional hierarchical political and social orders protected by the Church were overthrown and replaced with the idea of governments being "...instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." Human reason carried the day. Books were published and a great scientific revolution took hold, leading the world into the Industrial Revolution.

That was then. Today, America's political landscape makes one wonder how far has America strayed from the values it gleaned from the Enlightenment Period? With the selection of Donald Trump as President, one must seriously ask if America is at the Dawn of Darkness. Will historians note this as an era where ultra-conservatives deny the accepted science of global warming or climate change, purely for political benefit? How will this period of coordinated attacks on honest journalism be viewed through the lens of history? Will the creation of "alternative truths", designed to weaponize false narratives that create smokescreens for ultra-conservatives to pass legislation undermining the fundamental elements of American Democracy, be viewed as the beginning of the end of Enlightenment in this country?

There are many examples that can be identified as important indicators of America's drift away from its stated precepts. In 2008 Republicans and Fox News characterized President Obama as a Harvard elitist that couldn't identify with regular people. This opened the door for the rise of Sarah Palin as a candidate and clear example of a race to the bottom or the tip of the spear of anti-intellectualism. In a 2008 interview, then CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked Republican VP nominee Palin what newspapers and magazines Palin read regularly. Palin's response -- "a vast variety of sources". Then Gov. Palin's inability to even name her hometown paper, the Wasilla Frontiersman was passed off by conservatives as acceptable for a potential vice president of the United States. Conservatives accused Couric of "gotcha' journalism". Even worse, having been effected by Republicans labeling them "liberal media", many in mainstream new outlets accepted this foolish premise; even questioning Couric's credibility as a journalist.

Palin later tried to represent herself as a fiscal conservative by attacking, "Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France." The problem here is her lack of knowledge about the 1933 Nobel Prize winning work of Thomas Hunt Morgan and how genes are passed on by way of chromosomes. His research has been essential to the study of autism. As a mother of a child with autism, Palin should have been better informed but was given a pass as intellectualism suddenly became devalued as a prerequisite to hold the highest offices in the land.

Donald Trump (endorsed by Palin) continues to receive the same preferential treatment. During the campaign, conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump questions about foreign policy and Middle East politics and "Quds Forces" (Trump confused Quds Forces with the Kurds). Trump blamed Hewitt for "gotcha' journalism". House Speaker Ryan has chosen to give President Trump a pass for his ignorance and inability to govern by saying, Trump is "new at this, new to government".

Republicans have lied for seven years about Obama's "Affordable Care Act" (ACA). They now have a Republican president, House and Senate and cannot even pass acceptable legislation out of their party. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's revised Senate bill would remove an estimated 49 million people off the insurance rolls by 2026. The CBO's estimates a 280 percent increase in insurance premiums for elderly, low-income people over the next decade under the Senate Republicans' version. Finally, according to CNBC, "About 45 percent of the benefits from the Republican health-care bill's tax cuts will go to households making $875,000 or more..." The Republican's plan is a tax cut disguised as health care reform.

Despite these realities, Republicans continue to lie. They are trying to sell this legislation to the American electorate because they are more concerned about "keeping a promise" to overturn "ObamaCare" (their pejorative) than providing substantive health insurance reform to the American people.

The First Amendment protects the media and free speech because the framers of the Constitution understood that a free press is the cornerstone of democracy. Trump attacks the media by calling reporters who expose his ignorance and lies "dishonest". His spokesperson Kelly Ann Conway introduced the idea of "alternative facts" into our lexicon while her boss, Trump, introduced "fake news". These baseless attacks on the media are dangerous. Attacking the media with baseless charges and continuing to articulate a narrative that allows people to dismiss realities that they find inconvenient, turns real journalism into public relations à la Edward Bernays and/or propaganda à la Joseph Goebbels. It's a free and open media that makes democracy possible.

Trump's ideological guru or "chief strategist" is Steve Bannon. According to Bannon's comments at the Human Dignity Institutes 2014 Vatican conference as reported by Buzz Feed, "I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis... it is a crisis both of capitalism but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West in our beliefs." He believes that hundreds of years from now, people will look back at this time as "almost a new Dark Age".

Bannon's new "Dark Age" is not due to a crisis in the Judeo-Christian West. Bannon's new "Dark Age" is a result of his stated objective to "deconstruct" the "administrative state". He is determined to allow capitalism to flourish by undermining democracy and eliminating the government's ability to influence, control or protect the interests of the American people through its power to regulate business.

Trump and his henchmen are taking us backwards. They are substituting lies for truth by labeling those who challenge them as "the lying media", "fake", while calling his machinations "alternatively factual". They are denigrating democracy by lying about "voter fraud" and implementing a fraudulent panel to investigate it. His panel has asked states to provide sensitive and detailed voter information as a pretext to validate his unsubstantiated claims. He is replacing national interests with corporate interests by proposing to cut much needed social programs by hundreds of billions of dollars while feeding the military industrial complex with a 10 percent increase in military spending.

Trump is cloaking White Nationalism with the "Back the Blue Act of 2017" by calling it substantive crime policy. Trump and the Republicans are enhancing the racist and repressive forces of the police state. Per the Washington Post, they are creating new federal crimes, imposing federal police over the will of local officials and voters and shielding police officers from virtually any civil liability, even in cases of egregious misconduct.

Unlike the period from which The Enlightenment arose, the Dawn of Darkness won't be known as a time where monarchs regained power. If Trump and the ultra-conservatives get their way, the "divine" of this age will be the rich, filling their coffers at the public's expense through neo-liberal policies with scant opportunity for movement between the socioeconomic classes.
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Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "Inside the Issues with Leon" on SiriusXM Satellite radio channel 126. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com.