Sunday, January 17, 2010

MLK's Economics

Mark Engler has a great piece up at The Nation that looks at the last campaign Martin Luther King, Jr. embarked on before his assassination: The Poor People's Campaign. Here's an excerpt:

Martin Luther King Jr. was working hard to get people to Washington, DC. But when he told an audience, "We are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect.... We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago," the year was not 1963, and his issue was not segregation. Instead, it was 1968, five years after his "I Have a Dream" speech, and now the issue was joblessness and economic deprivation. King was publicizing a new mass mobilization led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a drive known as the Poor People's Campaign.

In King's vision of the campaign, thousands of Americans who had been abandoned by the economy would create a tent city on the National Mall, demand action from Congress, and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience until their voices were heard. King argued in one of his last sermons, "If a man doesn't have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists."

The solution, he believed, was to "confront the power structure massively."

Four decades later, as our country struggles with disappearing jobs and growing desperation, much of the critique of the U.S. economy offered in the Poor People's Campaign is newly resonant. As the country celebrates Dr. King's life and legacy, it is an opportune time to ask: How did the reverend approach issues like poverty, unemployment, and economic hardship? And--given that he offered his criticisms amid one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in our country's history--how might he respond to today's crises of foreclosure and recession?

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