What Would a 21st Century Rev. King Be Saying and Doing in 2012?

Our national day to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is an opportunity to focus and ramp up the political debate in 2012 on “saving the middle class” and addressing “income inequality” that has been, from all reports, getting worse since the early 1970s.

Over the last year “Tea Bag” politicians, lavishly funded by unlimited corporate money, have sought to make the income gap worse, launching an unprecedented assault on the public sector and collective bargaining.

Tune in to any Republican Presidential debate for the latest ways and means to maximize income insecurity for working and middle income Americans. Or listen to the likes of Boehner and McConnell as they trash the very moderate moves of Obama to mitigate income inequality and preserve a social contract so vital to a free society.

So what would a 21st Century Martin Luther King be saying about all of this?

From his splendid words and many deeds we already can surmise that he would be leading a moral charge to “occupy” every city and town on behalf of the 99%; he would be working with others to close the gap in incomes and establish a level economic playing field.

Most certainly, Rev. King would be lending his voice to an organized labor movement that over time has been shrinking in direct correlation to the falling incomes of most Americans.

Proof of what he would be saying now comes with remembering what he was doing during his last hours on this earth.

4 April 2007
I remember exactly where I was on April 4, 1968, the day the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. 
That week day, like many others in my senior year at Lynn English High School, I drove to Bradlee’s Department store on the Lynnway in Lynn, Massachusetts to punch in for the evening shift, earning some money before entering Boston University and its College of Basic Studies in the fall of 1968.
The news spread quickly that Thursday evening that King was dead. 
It didn’t take long to realize that my shift as a retail clerk would be different from all the others. The store quickly emptied out. Not a customer in sight all night. No need for Mr. Silverman, the shaken and somber store manager, to send me out on outside carriage control. The bullets in Memphis were enough to bring a normal business day to a halt in Lynn and most of the nation. Just five short years before I had come home from junior high on a late summer day to watch King deliver his “I Have A Dream” speech – an event that would inspire so many to become active in politics and protest. 
There are many good remembrances of what King said and stood for on his national holiday. But not so much is said on this anniversary of the day he died. It’s worth remembering on his January holiday, April 4th and throughout the year why King was in Memphis on a day I will never forget. 
By 1968, Rev. King was widening the concerns of his movement. In his book Where Do We Go From Here? King opposed a Vietnam policy that had begun to break the nation further apart. The lunchroom sit-ins and battles over accommodations and voting rights were giving way to a broader agenda. He was planning a new march on Washington – “the Poor People’s Campaign” — when he decided to take up the cause of 1,300 black sanitation workers in Memphis, a city of southern segregation, where the white power structure opposed the right to unionize and the Mayor vowed never to bargain in good faith in a way that would give the sanitation workers their dignity. 
The strike and a citywide economic boycott were a cause King knew he could not ignore.
King’s prophetic “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech on the eve of the assassination is his best known from Memphis. But two weeks earlier, on March 18th, King galvanized support for strikers by saying: “So often we overlook the worth and significance of those who are not in professional jobs, or those who are not in the so-called big jobs…..One day our society will come to respect the sanitation worker if it is to survive.” 
Following King’s assassination, the Memphis power structure gave up its intransigence – recognizing the AFSCME union, awarding pay raises and instituting merit promotions. 
King’s campaign for striking sanitation workers reaffirmed his greatness at the hour of his death and resonates today in the cause of social and economic justice. 
That is worth remembering most from the day he died.

Other Words: The 2012 GOP Vote Suppression Plan

From Other Words:  2 January 2012

Disenfranchising Voters is Un-American

Buying elections on the one hand and keeping people away from the polls on the other isn’t what our democracy is supposed to be about.

William A. Collins
Love my voting,
Makes me grin;
But these new rules,
Won’t let me in.
You may not realize just what depths the Republican Party has been plumbing to regain the presidency next year.
By now it should be plain that its contingent in Congress has steadily voted to keep unemployment high and the Great Recession alive. The goal is to hang each of these millstones, recession and unemployment, around President Barack Obama’s neck until November. The health of our economy is of less interest to those folks.
Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.
Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Likewise, allowing virtually unlimited campaign contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations is another part of the plan. Labor unions and workers cannot compete with that level of largesse. Such big money means that Obama must also snuggle up to Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But most egregious of all these schemes is the movement, in the states where Republicans hold sway, to deter prospective Democratic voters from even getting to the polls. Most states with tea party-inspired governors and legislatures have been working feverishly at this. The common theme is to require every voter to present a state-issued ID card.
The gimmick, of course, is to make these cards hard to come by. Generally they must be obtained at motor vehicle offices, frequently inaccessible on foot and notoriously frustrating. The targeted victims are the poor, the young, the old, and the black. The main GOP objection to these folks is that they suffer from a nearly uncontrollable urge to vote for Democrats.
New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice estimates that approximately 5 million eligible voters will be sufficiently deterred by this inconvenience so as not to get a card. That burden will fall most heavily on those without a car, without good physical mobility, or without available time off from work.
That, of course, is the whole idea. Since these poor generally don’t vote for Republican candidates, the goal is keep them out of the voting booth.
Some 25 percent of African-American voters don’t have a state ID, as opposed to just 11 percent of all voters, according to the Brennan Center. Given some of our recent tight presidential races, removing 5 million low-income voters from the pool could easily turn the election. Not to mention all those governors and legislators now rubbing their hands with glee over the benefit to themselves the next time out.
There are other wrinkles too. Louisiana has subverted the Motor Voter Law by simply not distributing enough registration forms to DMV offices, and by failing to designate social service bureaus as registration sites. Florida has new rules as well, designed to suppress absentee voting, mostly by the elderly. These regulations are so stringent that the League of Women Voters (LWV) will no longer participate.
Then in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, who may face a recall election in 2012, signed a bill putting an end to same-day voter registration. Still other states are curtailing their early voting rules.
The public justification for this hard-driving crusade is the supposed scourge of “voter fraud.” The LWV used to wave that banner itself when big city political machines essentially set up polling places in graveyards. But today there’s very little detectable fraud. Even the hyped-up case against the citizens’ action group ACORN turned out to be phony. ACORN, which fell apart because of these trumped-up accusations, was ultimately exonerated.
So please be depressed. This is what American democracy has come to: buying elections on the one hand and keeping people away from the polls on the other.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. otherwords.org
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